Memorial Park will hold a preview party for its new tunnels

Drivers who regularly pass through Memorial Park have watched as new tunnels, taxiways, and a land bridge are built piece by piece and pour by pour.

On Saturday, they will have the opportunity to walk through one of the concrete tunnels during a preview. On March 4, the eastbound lanes will open to vehicular traffic. This preview event will feature a DJ, food trucks and kids’ activities, as park staff will be on hand to talk to attendees about upcoming work.

On a recent chilly day, Randy Odinet, Vice-Present of Capital Projects and Facilities at Memorial Park Conservancy, toured the park project which was launched in August 2020, shortly after the opening of the first phase of the massive master plan, the 100-acre Clay Family Eastern Glades.

Workers tightened the rails of the cable fences and completed the waterproofing around the tunnel crowns before the dirt was trucked out. Winding sidewalks are poured so that cyclists – and walkers – can navigate the park uninterrupted.

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They’ve come a long way in 18 months, since heavy trucks brought in the first concrete rings that form the tunnels, which are 27 feet high and 54 feet wide. Three eastbound lanes will open in a month, then work will continue on the westbound lanes. When these are complete and open, the original concrete pathways will be demolished so that the land can once again become a park. The top of the land bridge likely won’t be open to the public until late 2022.

When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 5 (rain date is Feb. 6)

Or: Memorial Park Land Bridge and Tunnels, 7575 Picnic Lane

Car park: Free parking at the Cullen Running Trails Center parking lot, off West Memorial Loop Drive. There is paid parking ($1 for 3 hours) at the Clay Family Eastern Glades parking lot or the Sports Complex parking lot.

Launched with a $70 million catalyst gift from the Kinder Foundation, the tunnels and land bridge were designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz and are a cooperative effort between the Memorial Park Conservancy, the Kinder Foundation, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department and Uptown Houston.

Another major gift came late last year from the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Family Foundation, $10 million to fund the seeding and ongoing planting of what will be 45 acres of Gulf Coast Prairie.

Two hundred years ago, the land that is now the park was just native grassland, filled with Indian grasses, blue grasses, milkweed, lemon balm, coneflower and blue bonnet. As settlers cleared the land for agriculture, ranching, and logging, the prairie disappeared.

The Gulf Coast prairie is considered an endangered ecosystem, with only 1% remaining. This tunnel and land bridge project will restore approximately 45 acres of it, a move that not only restores the balance of the natural ecosystem, but helps clean the land and air and improves stormwater drainage.

For example, when Hurricane Harvey brought heavy rain and flooding to the Houston area, it eroded 15 feet from the shoreline of the section of Buffalo Bayou that runs through the park. In tests in the city, soil from the park was found as far away as the Houston Ship Channel, park officials said.

Prairie grasses and wildflowers, however, can have root systems 8 to 12 feet deep, forming a natural sponge that holds more water deeper in the ground, preventing flooding and erosion. What will be grassland now serves as a building area, and part of the land simply has a winter cover crop. Seeding of the actual prairie will take place later this year, and it takes up to seven years to become fully established.

The land bridge was designed by Thomas Woltz, landscape architect and director of Nelson Byrd Woltz, as a way to give the land back to people, wildlife and nature.

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Six lanes of traffic and 55,000 cars a day on Memorial Drive make it difficult for people and animals to move from the north side of the park to the south side. They will be able to walk on it when the land bridge is completed later this year.

“It occurred to us: ‘What if the landscape could triumph over the gray infrastructure of an urban city? What if we could lift people, plants, grasslands and wildlife above this tear through the public park? Said Woltz in an interview. “That’s where this idea of ​​a giant land bridge was born. The park triumphs over the street.

The land bridge will have areas that look natural and wild with other paved or mowed areas so people can walk across and families can sit and picnic.

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Joseph K. Bennett