County keeps Greenway trail projects progressing
The grand opening of a park in Champion Forest and ground breakings for two major projects near Lake Houston are in the pipeline for Harris County’s Greenway trail system this year.
Rain has been the greatest impediment to the Greenway projects and Pct. 4 Parks director Dennis Johnston said he’s ready for some good weather.
“Our biggest, biggest issue is getting some good old-fashion sunshine,” Johnston said.
When weather does permit, crews continue building Spring Creek Greenway trails as the county proceeds with land acquisitions along the route of the future Cypress Creek Greenway.
Johnston estimates the completion of both projects is still about 10 years out, but when finished, the Cypress and Spring Creek Greenways will comprise about 70 miles of hiking and biking paths that link to both the Kingwood Greenbelt and The Woodlands trails.
“Kingwood has over 100 miles of trails on the ground already,” Johnston said. “The Woodlands has over 200 miles of trails on the ground already. You link these things together via the Spring Creek Greenway and you’re well over 300 miles of linked trails.”
Spring Creek Greenway
Construction on the Spring Creek Greenway has been underway for over a decade. Johnston said the goal over the next decade is to complete the trail spanning from Kingwood to Spring Creek Park just west of Texas 249.
Spring Creek Greenway is complete from U.S. 59 to Interstate 45 and trail construction has begun west of the Exxon campus in Spring, according to Johnston. Project coordinators are negotiating routes to link the completed east section with the west section currently being built.
A bridge over Willow Creek is in design. Crews are putting down trail leading up to the site of the future bridge.
“I would hope within the next two years to be over Willow Creek for sure and looking at getting that bridge under construction,” Johnston said.
He expects to have the Spring Creek trail done from U.S. 59 to Burroughs Park in the Tomball area within the next five years.
Coming up in 2019
The county plans to open Champion Forest Park by the end of summer at Cutten Road and Cypress Wood Drive, which used to be the site of a nursery. The park will include a picnic area, playground, parking lot, restroom facility and will link to the Cy-Champ Park to the south.
“They have that little veterans park just to the south of that, so all that will link together and we’re going to have a couple of small practice soccer fields in there so when they do their tournaments at Meyer they can come over and warm up over in those practice fields,” Johnston said.
Another possible milestone for 2019 is breaking ground on Edgewater Park at U.S. 59 and Hamblen Road near Kingwood.
Proceeding with Edgewater construction depends on whether the county is awarded a Texas Parks and Wildlife grant. The county applied for a boating access grant for 75 percent matching funds, up to $500,000, to finance a boat launch at Edgewater. In addition to the boat launch, park facilities are set to include restrooms, a concessions area and fish cleaning stations.
The Parks and Wildlife Commission has not announced a decision to award the grant, but Johnston said he anticipated a response sometime in February.
The county is also awaiting funds from a Texas Department of Transportation capital improvement grant that Johnston said was approved a few years ago. He expects the funding to come through this summer, which would allow the county to proceed with linking the Spring Creek Greenway to the Townsen Park and Ride in Humble.
The Townsen Boulevard link would allow residents in downtown Houston to use public transportation to access the Greenway, and would also allow northwest county residents to bike to the Park and Ride and take the bus to work.
“(The Greenway) becomes a transportation hub, versus just a recreational hub,” Johnston said.
When funding is received, Johnston said the bidding process can begin for the project. Once shovels hit the ground, he said the project may take another two years to complete.
“Best case scenario, maybe by the end of 2019, or early 2020, we break ground on Edgewater Park, which I think is going to be a fabulous addition,” Johnston said. “If we can get Edgewater broken at the end of the year, as well as get that Townsen Boulevard connection ground-broken before the end of the year, that would mean two huge milestones right there.”
Project coordinators shifted their emphasis from the Spring Creek to the Cypress Creek project about a year-and-a-half ago once the county had obtained the right to use land along Spring Creek from U.S. 59 to FM 2978.
“Our land linkage is done in that segment,” Johnston said. “The piece we don’t have and we’re working on now is Highway 2978 to 249 in the Tomball district. We’re in negotiations there with a lot of landowners.”
Cypress Creek Greenway
Currently in the land acquisition phase, Johnston said the Cypress Creek Greenway project involves laying approximately 30 miles of trail along Cypress Creek. Several projects are in design on already purchased properties along the route.
“The biggest area would be right there at 249 at Cypress Creek,” Johnston said. “We’re designing the under-crossing going under 249.”
According to Johnston, some subdivisions and municipal utility districts along the trunk-line trail are interested in creating their own offshoot trails through neighborhoods.
“Some of them have already started working on the spokes coming out of the Cypress Creek Greenway trail, which would go up all to the gullies,” Johnston said. “There’s seven or eight gullies along Cypress Creek that feed into it that could become trail linkage back up into the subdivisions.”
The Cypress Creek and Spring Creek Greenways will serve as connectors between precinct parks.
“That’s a big part of where we’re headed with this thing is to create these anchor parks along the way that are linked by what we call the trunk-line trail,” Johnston said.
Anchor parks along Cypress Creek include Micherillo-Mischer Preserve, 100 Acre Woods Preserve, Matzke Park, Meyer Park and Collins Park.
The county owns property at Kuykendahl Road and Cypress Creek that is slated to become another anchor park as well.
Further downstream, past Interstate 45, is Mercer Botanic Gardens.
At the confluence of Cypress and Spring creeks sits Jesse H Jones Park and Nature Center, serving as another of the greenways’ anchor parks.
Moving upstream along Spring Creek, greenway trails already link Jones Park to Carter Park, which is now also linked to Dennis Johnston Park, he said.
Trail is now being constructed on the west side of I-45 along Spring Creek moving toward Willow Creek. Johnston said the county will likely build another anchor park along that path near Rothwood.
Partners and funding
With all the entities involved in the greenway projects, as well as donated properties and recreational easements, Johnston estimates combined project costs are approaching $30 million.
“It’s not always a ‘write a check’ thing,” Johnston said. “We have a lot of tools in our arsenal that we try to use.”
One tool is the Harris County Flood Control District’s 2018 flood mitigation bond, which helps purchase floodplain properties along the creeks as part of its flood prevention strategy. The placement of the trails in flood-prone areas contributes to construction delays, explained Johnston.
“Keep in mind that what we’re buying are floodway and floodplain properties. We’re so low in these properties. Some places we get very close to the creek and the creek has been up and out of its banks a half a dozen times just in the past six months.”
Other contributors to the project are TPWD, which Johnston said helped with trail construction on several segments of the Spring Creek Greenway, and Harris County, which he said helps with higher-cost projects like construction of trails crossing under thoroughfares.