Group seeks partnerships on 40-mile greenway project

The Cypress Creek Greenway Project is connecting parks across 40 miles of north Harris County, from west of Hwy. 290 in Cypress to Spring Creek in Lake Houston.

Greenway project officials have been working with Harris County, local utility districts and developers to open new parks in the Cy-Fair area. New parks and trails include the anchor park, Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve, which opened in April, and the 100 Acre Wood Preserve, which was upgraded in 2016 with a new paved trail connecting Jones Road to Cypress Creek.

County officials in Precinct 4 said they are also looking into developing a new park where the greenway passes Hwy. 249 on land donated by the D. Bradley McWilliams YMCA.

Once completed, the greenway will be the longest connected trail system in the U.S., project Chairman Jim Robertson said.

“The vision for the Cypress Creek Greenway is to have a series of parks along Cypress Creek,” Robertson said. “A lot of them may be very small parks but also have what we call an anchor park, which is a larger park which would have parking and restrooms and things like that.”

Since the greenway project was launched in 2004, 24 parks and 15 trails have been established, Roberston said. However, challenges still remain when it comes to finding enough partner organizations to achieve the end goal, and some officials are concerned that continued greenway development is not taking all residents into account.

“[Some people] don’t want a trail where they live,” Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said. “They don’t want paid [parks] services; they want natural [spaces]. You have advocacy groups that are out there pushing and pushing and many times pushing it to people who don’t want it.”

Project overview

The CCGP started as a committee of the Cypress Creek Flood Control Coalition, a local nonprofit that promotes flood mitigation efforts along Cypress Creek. The project aims to connect green space along Cypress Creek to encourage flood-reduction efforts and build recreational structures to benefit the environment and its wildlife.

Partnerships with public and private organizations have played a key role in moving the project forward, Robertson said. Park projects such as Bud Hadfield Park, Collins Park and Meyer Park along the greenway were all established as a result of cooperation between the greenway project and various local organizations.

Although the organization has mapped out and planned many future park and trail additions, Robertson said the process depends on who participates and is willing to pay for it.

“There are a number of existing anchor parks that existed [when] we started the project; however, there have been some new parks created since we’ve been promoting the development of the greenway, and there are a number of trail segments that have been completed as well,” Robertson said.

The newest milestone along the greenway—the Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve—opened April 1 near Hwy. 249 and Chasewood Park Drive. The 80-acre anchor park was funded by Harris County Precinct 4 at a cost of $3.4 million, and it includes 1.7 miles of trails around the 40-acre Marshall Lake.

A partnership with the Prestonwood Forest Utility District saved the county about $2 million, officials said. As a part of the agreement, Prestonwood allowed the county to convert its former fire station building into a staff building with a live-in caretaker.

Outsider help

Since 2004, Harris County precincts 3 and 4, the Bridgeland master-planned community and several municipal utility districts—or MUDs—have participated in the project by working to buy and develop land along Cypress Creek.

“An important thing to understand about our efforts is that we are not buying land; we are not building trails,” Robertson said. “Our function and work has been to coordinate, to advocate and to provide a vision for the greenway because there are so many potential partners.”

Harris County voters approved $848 million in four bond referendums in 2015 that included  $60 million in park funding. Each precinct received $15 million, said Kiley Van Horn, director of financial services for Precinct 4. Precinct 4 is spreading the money over the next six years, she said.

“Of the allocation that Precinct 4 has received of the current bond referendum, we are allocating $2.5 million per year to the Cypress Creek Greenway project,” Van Horn said.

Precinct 4 Parks Director Dennis Johnston said the parks department is in the early stages of development—including land acquisition and positioning—for several projects along the greenway. He said current projects are focused on a 15-mile stretch of trails near Hwy. 59, as well as recent and future Cy-Fair parks. He said details on Cy-Fair area parks are still being finalized and are not yet ready to be announced.

Many details on the park planned on donated land from the YMCA are still being finalized as well, he said.

“We would like to eventually add a nice playground to the picnic amenities already there,” he said.

Tricia Brasseaux, design project manager for Bridgeland, said the community has built along sections of the greenway to provide green spaces for their residents and help with flooding problems.

The Howard Hughes Corporation, the development company behind Bridgeland, has set aside 1,000 acres along the Cypress Creek corridor as a sign of support for the project, Brasseaux said. Officials just started work this year on an extension of the Cypress Creek Nature Trail, a 2.5-mile granite path that will run along Cypress Creek through Bridgeland, she said.

“The Cypress Creek Nature Trail in Bridgeland is in its early stages,” Brasseaux said. “[The trail] is a key component of the Cypress Creek Greenway and will provide future generations with recreational activity and help preserve a thriving ecosystem for all to appreciate.”

Robertson said developers have an interest in the project particularly to provide incentives to move to the area and improve the quality of life for existing residents.

“There’s a clear economic benefit, there’s a health benefit, there’s quality of life benefits [and] there are flood mitigation benefits,” he said.

Challenges, benefits

Radack said although the greenway has made progress over the years, he is unsure whether the end goal is realistic. Radack said his office has created several parks along the greenway but does not have other parks planned.

Johnston said the trail completions provide benefits to his department, including making it easier to maintain the grounds, pick up trash and repair equipment.

The expansion and connection of the trail system also should improve safety along the greenway, Johnston said. The Precinct 4 constable’s office has assigned 34 deputies to the parks.

“When my guys are on the trail, there’s security on the trail system,” Johnston said. “They’re on the job, and they’re on the trail constantly.”

Johnston said he hopes the greenway project continues to receive support from the public as it moves forward.

“These things cost money,” he said. “We’re buying land and building trails. We’re becoming more efficient in not only the maintenance side but the trail construction. We have the equipment, we have the crews and the training and the knowledge now, and we’re building them for less than half the cost it would take normally.”

Radack said MUD participation could prove challenging for connecting the entire 40-mile project.

“As far as trails along Cypress Creek [in] Precinct 4, you’ve got some of the MUDs participating; in Precinct 3, they’re not really participating,” he said.

Community members and residents can help keep the momentum going for the greenway by spreading awareness and giving thanks to the local organizations that participate, Robertson said.

“I think Precinct 4 and Precinct 3 are doing a great job,” Robertson said, “[People should] let the commissioners know that they appreciate and like it.”