With nearly 50 parks and enough green space to cover more than a quarter of Manhattan island, Harris County Precinct 4 has no shortage of opportunities to learn, explore, and build memories.
Since opening its first park, Precinct 4 has become known for creating unique recreational spaces along Spring and Cypress creeks. To keep up with the region’s growing needs, as well as its ever-changing and sometimes hostile environment, Precinct 4 continues to upgrade and expand its park system so visitors will always have a place to enjoy the outdoors.
Mercer’s Major Changes
Filled with themed gardens and one-of-a-kind plants and flowers, Mercer Botanic Gardens is one of Harris County’s most popular outdoor spaces. Its annual plant sales never fail to draw a crowd, and its changing color gardens make Mercer an excellent attraction year-round.
Unfortunately, flooding has always been a challenge for Mercer. During most floods, the gardens incurred only light damage and recovered within a few months. Hurricane Harvey changed that. Harvey’s massive devastation has staff members working three years later to restore the grounds to their former glory. There’s hope, though, that a master plan will launch Mercer into a new era.
“The first phase of the master plan is building the new greenhouses and creating the flood basin area,” says Chris Ludwig, Mercer’s director. “If we stay on completion schedule [for the greenhouses], we’ll be done by July or August 2021.”
Other improvements include changes to the Forrest Floor, an area along the creek just past the Tropical Garden. Ludwig says Mercer will install retaining or low-seating walls and update the irrigation system. Staff have planted the crinum lily collection at Storey Lake and will soon plant a new collection of Louisiana irises around the lake. Ludwig says other changes will come as the park is evaluated.
“Going through the gardens to take a look helps determine what will be updated,” he says. “We just updated the Tropical Garden, the Children’s Garden, and the Shakespeare Garden.”
Connecting to Kickerillo
Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve is a gem hidden in plain sight, nestled in bustling Vintage Park, near the intersection of Highway 249 and Chasewood Park Drive.
Cypress Creek and Marshall Lake are the preserve’s centerpieces, providing a scenic backdrop for hikers, bikers, and joggers to enjoy the trails. The land adjacent to the preserve is set to undergo significant changes that will enhance the area by providing new amenities and connecting to nearby parks and recreational spaces. Recent changes to the addition, known as KMP South, include a new playground, a repaved entry point, a parking lot, and a picnic area. Once it is complete, visitors can enter KMP South from Highway 249.
“We’re getting ready to add a major trail project,” says Dennis Johnston, Precinct 4’s parks director. “It will go under 249, along the north side of Cypress Creek. A critical aspect of that is it connects the YMCA pond along [KMP] South, headed east.
The Cypress Creek Greenway Trail expansion project will also connect to the 100 Acre Wood Preserve, which is popular with local mountain bikers. Precinct 4 is working closely with the Harris County Flood Control District, which owns property near the 100 Acre Wood Preserve, to provide more parking and facilities. Johnston says he plans to get the expansion project to bid in the first quarter of this year.
KMP director Rose Belzung Holmes says she looks forward to seeing the plans become reality.
“These plans have been in the works,” says Holmes. “It’s taking a while because of land acquisition. The county has been able to complete the Spring Creek Greenway Trail a lot quicker because most of the land was undeveloped. It was easier to gain easement access or purchase the land outright. The land along Cypress Creek is more developed with businesses and homes, so it takes a bit more procedural work to gain the easement access needed for trail installation.”
Plans also include linking Lone Star College-University Park to the Hewlett-Packard business park, which will give visitors access to the Cypress Creek Greenway Trail as far west as Jones Road near Faulkey Gulley.
Development is taking place throughout the area, which is expected to draw more visitors to the Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve. Holmes says additional improvements will be needed as more visitors take advantage of the preserve.
“We are requesting to add another covered picnic area so that we can have another site for people to use,” she says. “At some point, we’re going to have an additional restroom facility closer to the west end of the preserve.”
KMP will also one day include a nature center, but it is not an immediate project. More planning and surveying are needed to prevent flooding before breaking ground.
Latest Park Joins Precinct 4
One of the latest parks to be added to Precinct 4 is Alabonson Park. This $6 million project is possible thanks to the financial contributions of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the Qatar Harvey Fund.
“Commissioner [Cagle] was approached by the Near Northwest Management District about the property that was sitting unused,” shared Johnston. “The City of Houston owned the land, but wouldn’t develop it. We wrote a grant for a $1 million match to get the project up and running.”
Alabonson Park will feature a football field, an international-sized soccer field, two practice soccer fields, two softball fields, a playground, and a pollinator garden. There will also be a trail enclosing the park. The project is to be completed by March 2022.
Before breaking ground on Alabonson Park, Precinct 4 completed Champion Forest Park in 2018, which is only a few blocks away from KMP. Precinct 4 plans to connect the Cypress Creek Greenway Trail to the park and add a canoe launch for visitors to access Cypress Creek.
These are just a few parks projects Precinct 4 has planned over the next few years. As long as there is a need, Precinct 4 will continue to provide unique and alternative recreational spaces for all residents and visitors. For a full list of parks and their various amenities, visit Precinct 4’s website at www.hcp4.net/parks.