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Nature preserve in Northwest Harris County beefs up its community programming

August 2, 2018

Marcus Gillaspia had lived in his house in the Prestonwood Forest neighborhood of northwest Houston for two weeks before he discovered he had an 80-acre park across the street.

An avid mountain biker, Gillaspia said he chose his subdivision because of its close proximity to the wooded, well-maintained, off-road trails along Cypress Creek. He was exploring those paths when he cycled past Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve, which he learned connected to his street by way of a pedestrian bridge.

“I was just blown away,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is like a state park right in my neighborhood.’ ”

Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve opened in April 2017. The forested park, which is maintained by Harris County, is home to 40-acre Marshall Lake, two fishing piers, a canoe launch, restrooms and 1.7 miles of paved hike and bike trails.

This summer, in an effort to engage neighbors like Gillaspia who may not be familiar with its offerings, the park has increased its community programs. This includes free canoeing, which Gillaspia has participated in with his daughter Micah, 3, who also likes to play in the park’s sand area.

“We’re still kind of a hidden gem,” said Rose Belzung Holmes, director of Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve. While long-time area residents are familiar with the green space — which is visible from Highway 249 and was once owned by Hewlett-Packard — she said, many haven’t visited it since it’s been revitalized as a public park.

Increased community outreach includes free chances to fish and camp, too. And city slickers need not worry — equipment is provided.

On Aug. 11, the park will host its second Youth Fishing Derby for ages 6 to 16. No prior experience is needed, Holmes said, and poles and bait will be on hand for free use. The staff will hand out certificates to participants and have prizes for the winners.

Another new park initiative is Family Fish Camp. The next one takes place Sept. 22. Families spend the morning rotating through stations to learn about tackle box equipment, how to use a rod and reel and tie a knot and get tips on fish identification and fishing ethics.

After a break for a picnic lunch, they’ll see what they can catch. The lake is stocked seasonally. Depending on the time of year, species include largemouth bass, crappies, rainbow trout and catfish. Most are catch-and-release.

And, on the night of Sept 15, the park will offer free camping. When families sign up online, they can request free loaner tents and cooking equipment if they don’t have their own. During the overnight adventure, park staff will teach how to set up tents and cook outdoors. After dark, they’ll lead a night hike. The next morning, families can fish.

Holmes said the preserve is a good spot for first-time campers. “It’s still pretty urban,” she said, explaining that campers are more likely to hear cicadas and airplanes than the unsettling howls of wild animals, though the preserve is home to some coyotes, in addition to deer, owls and alligators that live in the lake.

Swimming isn’t allowed for this reason.

Outside of community events, fishing equipment and bait, canoes, and kayaks are available for free loan on designated evenings. And the park will soon add to its fleet of canoes.

On his daily rides through Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve, Gillaspia said he’s observed park improvements and new amenities, like coolers of ice water for public use that were recently installed. When Micah gets a little older, he said they may add fishing or camping to their family’s weekend routine.

“It’s a beautiful place,” he said. “Kind of like a mini getaway.”

Allison Bagley is a writer in Houston.

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