Exploration Green, the Clear Lake City Water Authority’s project to turn a former golf course into a detention pond that will eventually hold 500 million gallons of stormwater, began as a drainage facility with added amenities. Now, the project is viewed as a nature conservatory that also helps drain stormwater, Exploration Green Conservancy Chair Frank Weary said.

“The real gratifying part is seeing communities come together around this thing,” he said. “People feel good about what’s going on in the community.”

Efforts to turn the 200-acre project, located between El Camino Real, Bay Area Boulevard and Space Center Boulevard, into a reality started nearly 15 years ago with the process of purchasing the old Clear Lake Golf Course. In that time, Weary said, community spirit has been revitalized and public perception of the conservancy has changed significantly.

“The area was definitely sliding into blight,” he said. “[But] since we started doing construction, people perked up.”

Residents can walk or jog around both completed phases, each of which have more than a mile of concrete trails. The athletic fields next to Phase 1 are completed and can now be used as practice fields for local youth sports. Exploration Green aims to host more community events, starting with sunset yoga March 19.

Phase 2 was completed in early 2020, and phases 1 and 2 are connected so stormwater drains from Phase 2 to Phase 1. Construction is now underway on the first part of the third phase, Weary said. Permitting is being completed for Phase 4 as well, and construction should start on that phase within the next two months, he said.

While Phase 2 is complete, the lake on Phase 2 will have to be drained so crews can replace some pockets of sand found during excavation with clay. This will be done in the next few weeks and will mean the public cannot access Phase 2 for six to eight weeks while the process is completed, Weary said.

This is not the first time Exploration Green leaders have had to adapt project plans. Phase 2 initially fell behind because the project’s proximity to Ellington Airport violated a Houston ordinance. Work resumed in September 2018 after the project was granted a variance.

Upon completion, lakes and wetland areas will take up about 8 acres per phase, or just under 40 total acres. The on-site nursery where plants are kept is maintained by volunteers, who play an integral part in planting trees and shrubs during the late fall and early spring. Planting should be completed by the end of 2022, Weary said.

When finished, the project will protect 2,000 to 3,000 surrounding homes from flooding in 12 to 15 inches of rain, leaders said. Exploration Green's amenities are funded entirely by grants and donations. In total, the project will cost between $40 million to $50 million to complete. The last piece of the puzzle will be an entry plaza on Phase 1 estimated to cost between $1.5 million to $2 million, Weary said.

Volunteer maintenance crews use few to no chemicals on the property aside from the occasional ant killer, Exploration Green leaders said. Exploration Green is home to all native plants, from spider lilies and irises to arrowheads and maidencane. Trees are watered with reuse water, which Weary said is significantly better quality than regular stream water.

The project has played a large part in driving up housing costs over the last three years, volunteer leaders said. Data from Paige Martin of Keller Williams Realty shows the price per square foot of Clear Lake area homes went from $9 in 2016 to $17 in 2017, then $28 in 2018.

Home prices in the Clear Lake area are generally influenced by job growth, available inventory and interest rates, Martin said. Clear Lake has performed above average over both the last 5 and 10 years for Houston’s top suburbs thanks to growth in the area, new construction, and a growing number of professionals who live in the area and commute to the Houston Medical Center, she added.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 1:48 p.m. on March 4 to clarify data.