A 200-acre Clear Lake project that began as stormwater detention at a former golf course has since evolved into both flood-mitigation structures and a local recreation destination. The remaining two sections of the five-phase nonprofit project, known as Exploration Green, are set to be complete by the end of 2022.

Informal spot surveys conducted by Frank Weary, Exploration Green’s board of directors chair, in mid-2019 indicated the property saw 100 visitors or so a day. By mid-2020, shortly after Phase 2 opened, it increased to 300 per day. By the end of 2022, Weary expects the property will see 500 to 700 people per day.

“As we’ve opened up other areas we continue to see expansion in traffic,” he said.

The city of League City does not track park attendance, but data from the League City Parks and Recreation Department showed participation in the city’s recreation programs declined year over year.

Participation in 2020 dropped to 41,426 from more than 68,000 in 2019. As facilities and programs started to return to normal operations in 2021, city officials said they saw a 40% increase in participation—up to 58,261—but it still fell short of pre-COVID-19 numbers.

Despite this, Chien Wei, League City’s parks and cultural services director, said city officials feel parks and recreation programs are “an important part of providing places for health and well-being.”

“Although numbers are not close to our 2019 numbers, we are seeing more people slowly coming back to the services provided,” he said. “Our citizens continue to express their appreciation for uninterrupted services.”

This year, League City will break ground on Bay Colony Park as well as acquiring acreage in the city’s eastern and undeveloped western portion, earmarking the acreage for future green spaces. Assistant City Manager Bo Bass said the city prioritizes green space projects to improve residents’ quality of life.

“It is very rare that we ... ever expect the park to actually pay for itself,” he said. “Because, quite frankly, it’s one of those services you provide that add to quality of life.”

Functional green space

The Clear Lake City Water Authority purchased the Exploration Green property, which is located at El Camino Real, Bay Area Boulevard and Space Center Boulevard, in 2011 to prevent additional housing development as well as addressing increased flooding caused by rain runoff in the Clear Lake City area, said John Branch, Exploration Green’s board of directors president, via email.

“The paradigm for detention ponds was to dig a hole in the ground, throw up a fence around it, and then forget about it,” Branch said. “[The CLCWA] believed that the project ... was a great opportunity to get the community involved with improving their quality of life while developing a personal investment in the neighborhood.”

Of the equal-size phases, Phases 1 and 2 were completed in 2018 and 2020, respectively. Half of Phase 3 was finished in 2020, and half should be completed in 2022, Branch said.

Phase 4 was completed in December, and the contract for Phase 5 was awarded in December. Phase 5 is set to break ground in late January and be completed by the end of 2022. The phases will cost a total of about $40 million, Exploration Green officials said.

Exploration Green’s amenities have been funded through grants and donations, nonprofit leaders said. The nonprofit was created to foster community involvement and assist in fundraising for amenities such as benches, trees, hike and bike trails, and the parking lot, which was completed in July.

Phase 5, which will cost $11 million, will have the same amenities, including hike and bike trails and benches tying the northeastern most phase—near Space Center Boulevard—to the rest of the park, officials said.

New trails, parks

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, officials are executing improvement projects that add recreational functionality to publicly accessible land.

Harris County Precinct 2’s El Dorado Boulevard widening project between Clear Lake City Boulevard and Horsepen Bayou was split into two phases due to the addition of in-ground detention. Phase 1, which will be completed this spring, includes both hike and bike trail work and in-ground detention, according to Precinct 2 staff.

The trails will be extended to Horsepen Bayou, and 5 miles of trails will be completed in conjunction with the El Dorado widening.

In League City, the Parks, Trails and Open Space Master Plan was released in November 2017. The master plan includes a needs assessment and recommendations for land usage and is meant to guide city officials to provide unique experiences, use infrastructure adequately and efficiently, and create economic sustainability.

“It’s a robust plan that’s scheduled way out beyond five years, but it’s very, very popular with the residents,” City Manager John Baumgartner said.

The city hired a consultant in fall 2021 to add elements related to mountain bike trails to the master plan, including aspects such as trail standards and acceptable trail placement, Baumgartner said. This plan update stemmed from mountain bikers who were utilizing handmade trails around neighborhoods adjacent to Lynn Gripon Park.

While the city is still relatively early in the process of executing master plan improvements, Bass said he hopes to get City Council approval on the new mountain bike trails for Lynn Gripon Park and break ground on it this year.

The parks master plan also serves to help officials determine how much land should be set aside for future parks in the city’s undeveloped southwest portion.

So far, the city has secured 100 acres on the west side for a future regional park, said David Hoover, executive director of development services. The park, which does not have a build-out timeline, will be west of McFarland Road and south of West Boulevard.

The park will be just south of a planned single-family community from Dallas-based developer Hillwood, located on land referred to as the Stedman-West site, city officials said. Bass said the park could include recreational space for sports, walking trails, and detention ponds that provide space for fishing and kayaking.

Additionally, city officials are in the process of looking to acquire more park space on the east side of town, Bass said. However, potential locations for added green space have not been released.

“The city has a mind to enhance park opportunities on the east side of the city and we are actively pursuing as many opportunities as possible,” Bass said.

Park renovations

League City residents can also expect to see progress with two existing sports complexes, Bay Colony Park and Big League Dreams, in 2022. The city-owned Big League Dreams sports facility closed a year ago after the previous operator failed to maintain the property.

For 16 years, the 35-acre park at Calder Road and Big League Dreams Parkway has allowed residents and visitors to play baseball in stadiums mimicking famous professional fields. Big League Dreams spokesperson Jen Schaff said via email that the facility is set to reopen in early 2022.

Roughly $2 million in upgrades are ongoing, including new seats; remodeling two eateries; and installing new infield turf, netting and playground equipment. In early January, Schaff said the company was finishing remodeling the eateries and was moving onto installing new stadium seating.

City Council met about Bay Colony Park, which is funded through the city’s 4B Industrial Development Board, in the fall. The most recent plans for Bay Colony Park estimate it will include 61 acres of developed area, 16 acres for the Grand Parkway and roughly 20 acres of detention, according to League City officials.

Council balked at the $38 million price tag last fall, saying the cost was far too high for the number of fields. A revised plan with a $21 million total cost was presented, but council members agreed this version of the park did not include enough amenities.

The parks board serves as the visionary for the project and is aiming to meet the varying requests of council members, city staff said.

“What we’ve done is try to give council ... a menu, and if you delete these things, here’s what it does to the park,” Baumgartner said.

Considerations include the number of fields and courts as well as whether parking space can accommodate special events, such as tournaments. Wei said council will have a work session Jan. 24, after press time, to discuss the updated plan.

Correction: The original version of the Park Facilities graphic has the incorrect number of total park acres the city of League City hopes to have in 2040. The graphic has been corrected.