The cities of Conroe and Montgomery are expanding facilities and adding new recreational programs to provide more opportunities for residents as parks and recreation programs grow.

In Conroe, the Owen Park and Westside Recreation Center opened Jan. 23 off Owen Drive, providing recreational space to residents on the city’s west side. The project has been underway since the city purchased the former YMCA site in 2021 for $2.5 million, according to Director of Finance Collin Boothe.

In Montgomery, Patricia Campuzano began serving as the city’s first events and recreation specialist in November, a new position approved for fiscal year 2022-23 as the city looks to add recreational programs.

Director of Public Works Mike Muckleroy said Montgomery has noted more traffic within the parks but had not provided recreation activities for kids until the new position was created.

“We do need something for the kids to do out here; there’s not a lot really for the children,” Campuzano said in an interview. “We have playgrounds but not a lot for kids to do during school breaks.”

At the county level, Montgomery County Precinct 2 is also working to provide more green space. Commissioner Charlie Riley said in an interview that Johnson Development—developer of master-planned community Woodforest—donated 391 acres of land to the county west of Fish Creek Thoroughfare in December 2021, as the land is in a flood plain and cannot be used for commercial development. As such, the county is planning for the land to be turned into a recreational site.

“It’s a perfect way for people to get real acquainted with nature,” Riley said.

Demand for recreation

According to Director of Parks and Recreation Mike Riggens, the city’s 2021 comprehensive plan revealed Conroe fell below the national average in many parks categories. The plan reported 6% of the city’s land is used for parks and recreation while the national average is 15%. He said 28% of the population in Conroe lives within a 10-minute walk to a park, while the national average is 54%.

According to Conroe’s budget for FY 2022-23, from FY 2021-22, athletic field usage has increased by 18% and special event facilities usage has increased 21%. Perry said the city’s soccer program has seen enrollment climb the most since its launch. According to enrollment data, the soccer program has seen a more than 230% increase in children enrolled as of Feb. 27 since its launch in fall 2018.

Riggens said this comprehensive plan was the inspiration for Conroe to weigh the need for additional park space.

In 2019, the city of Conroe had more than 230,000 total participants in its recreation programs. Scott Perry, assistant director of parks and recreation, said the city is anticipating to surpass 292,000 total participants in 2023, which would be a 27% increase from 2019.

Abigail Harrison said she has been a volunteer soccer coach with the city of Conroe for six seasons along with her husband. She said in an interview that her son’s team was split into two separate divisions because of the amount of interest.

“It’s actually really cool to be able to reach out to more kids and make them a part of something bigger than themselves,” Harrison said. “Some of my kids have been on my team since the beginning. ... It’s fun watching these kids grow up and be a part of their lives.”

Meeting the demand

As Montgomery has also identified more people using its parks, City Council members approved funding an events and recreation specialist position for $52,000 in August. The position includes organizing city events and establishing recreational activities, including an inaugural spring break camp with arts and crafts, reading, writing, and indoor and outdoor activities.

Campuzano said she hopes to provide a better quality of life for residents through recreation activities, and she believes Montgomery will be able to mirror other cities with a big recreation center, classes, a gym and sports as programs take off.

Meanwhile, Conroe also added a recreational specialist position in 2023 for about $76,000 to support its program growth. Riggens said the position is important because it helps the recreation coordinator for sports programming. Previously, there was only one full-time staff member running every program, according to city information.

Additionally, Conroe’s newly opened Owen Park and Westside Recreation Center includes a fitness room equipped with free weights and cardio machines, locker rooms, racquetball courts, spin rooms, a kids zone, a gymnasium, and a heated outdoor pool.

“This is a great addition to our park’s system. The 110 acres allows Conroe room to expand for future outdoor activities. We are committed to providing a safe and positive recreational environment for our children and citizens of Conroe,” Council Member Marsha Porter said in a Jan. 26 statement.

According to Riggens, the city invested over $1 million in improvements to the park and renovations to the recreation center. Improvements include a new asphalt road with additional parking, an off-leash area for dogs, resurfacing of the large pavilion, a new roof for the recreation center, air lighting in the gymnasium, new front entry and exit stairs, and water fountains as well as a heated lap pool that will be complete by this summer.

“The acquisition of Owen Park and the Westside Recreation Center gives citizens on the west side of Conroe as well as the surrounding area another opportunity to enhance their quality of life,” Riggens said in a Jan. 18 email.

Conroe is also preparing for construction to start on the new Oscar Johnson Jr. Community Center on Foster Drive in April and open the new center in August 2024, Public Information Officer Andrew Yousse said; the city is relocating the 10,000-square-foot center from a smaller space on Park Place.

Collin Boothe, assistant city administrator and director of finance, said construction is expected to cost $36.7 million.

When complete, the new 87,000-square-foot location will include a fitness center, child care areas and event space for 300 people, Community Impact previously reported.

Woodforest park space

In the Woodforest area, Montgomery County is using the 391 donated acres to help meet the demand for more parks and recreation space.

Riley said he was looking for land to increase park activity after Precinct 2’s sports parks in the Magnolia area filled up. He said the county has begun moving forward with the development of the land with some planning already completed and conceptual drawings underway.

Riley said he wants the park to include a nature center and wildlife rehab center; however, he hopes to leave as much green space as possible and install artificial turf. The park will include nature trails, ponds, a community center and a future recreation center as well as soccer, football, baseball and softball fields, and tennis courts.

“We have got to get these kids and these people back outside; we have to get them back out into nature,” Riley said. “We have to get them back out into doing what they are supposed to be doing, and that’s living as a community and supporting one another as a community, and there’s no better way to do that than with a park.”