City officials are preparing to gift residents with several new and improved green areas expected to open in early 2015, including a new park in Tomball and an inclusive playground in Magnolia.
For several years, popular area parks such as both cities' depot centers, Unity Park, Juergens Park and Jerry Matheson Park have been focal points for community gatherings. As the Tomball and Magnolia areas continue to grow, city and community leaders have discussed ways to increase the number of parks in the area to provide more outdoor and recreational spaces for residents as well as to attract new visitors.
"We know that people enjoy being outdoors, and we know when businesses look to relocate, 'quality of life' for their employees plays a large role in deciding where to open their businesses," Tomball Mayor Gretchen Fagan said. "It is important to maintain and grow our parks for the same reasons."
New Tomball park
In Tomball, where property for additional city-owned parks has run out, a land donation this summer has opened the doors for a new 14-acre park to be constructed at 1414 Hufsmith Road. Humana Inc. CEO Bruce Broussard donated the property in early July and agreed to underwrite the submission of an application on behalf of the city to the KaBOOM! community partner and construction grants program.
"Multigenerational playgrounds and parks are meaningful spaces that improve community health and help people achieve lifelong health and well-being," said Marvin Hill, national public relations manager for Humana Inc. "In other words, playgrounds and parks allow family and neighbors to engage with each other and focus on the good they can do collectively."
With the help of KaBOOM! and local volunteers, a 2,500-square-foot playground will be constructed Dec. 6 based on a design developed with input from Tomball ISD children. Tomball City Manager George Shackelford said the new playground will be the first of several amenities to fill the new park space.
City officials are in the process of applying for a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Recreation Grant Program for $400,000 to fund soccer fields, trails, a fishing pond and additional features, Shackelford said.
"By word of mouth, we know citizens are interested in more fields to practice sports and to play games, which is something the new park will incorporate," Shackelford said.
Shackelford said the city hopes to learn whether it has received the grant in January 2015 and plans to move forward with paving a driveway and roads at the new park in the near future.
Because the new park will be located across the street from Harris County-owned Samuel Matheson Park, the city is looking to form an agreement with Harris County Precinct 4 to help install sidewalks and carry out maintenance efforts, Shackelford said.
"There are no finite details, but the concept [for the partnership is] there, and it would be wonderful for the city," Shackelford said.
In addition, Jerry Matheson Park will also receive improvements thanks to a donation of picnic tables and barbecue pits from several of his family members at the Oct. 6 Tomball City Council meeting.
"The reason why [the park] is so important to him and us is that it's an area where families can gather and children can play safely," Jerry Matheson's wife Judy Matheson said. "I know my husband would be humbled to know the park is there in his name."
Unity Park upgrades
Since its inception just four years ago, Unity Park has grown to become a focal point of recreational activity in Magnolia. The 7,500-square-foot pavilion, skate park, playground and walking path were joined by the Gullo Family Tennis Center in early 2014. Magnolia City Administrator Paul Mendes said the new center is the only facility to offer open tennis courts in west Montgomery County.
"Unity Park is doing great," Mendes said. "The kids use it year-round; it hosts weddings, major barbecue cookoffs, Fourth of July and many other city events, and during the summer the park is abuzz with day cares at the splash pad."
Unity Park will soon be home to a first for the city—an inclusive park to cater to seniors and individuals with disabilities.
City Council approved a land donation from Magnolia ISD at its Aug. 12 meeting, but officials are still ironing out the details on the land agreement, said Deborah Rose Miller, Magnolia ISD board of trustees president. Miller said the plan is to have details finalized by the end of the year to allow construction on the playground to begin in 2015.
Brandie Webb, president of nonprofit Small Feet, Great Strides, said the designs for the park that will be presented to City Council include a swing for wheelchairs, senior-specific equipment, zero gravity swings and rubber-padded flooring. Webb said she wants the park to give children and adults the opportunity to enjoy simple activities like swinging that they may not have been able to in the past.
"Because there is a senior living community behind the park, we want them to be able to enjoy it as well," Webb said. "That's part of being all-inclusive is including the geriatric community."
The new playground will be located between the splash pad and tennis courts at Unity Park, and it is the only new project in the works for new parks in Magnolia, Mendes said.
Another addition at Unity Park has been discussed for some time—a recreation center—but Miller said for now, that chapter is closed.
Future plans for green space
Despite the largely rural nature of the communities, the city of Tomball does not own any additional land tracts for future park development, Shackelford said. In Magnolia, there are an estimated 3 acres of city-owned land left to establish new green spaces, Mendes said. However, Magnolia Mayor Todd Kana said the city has plenty of park space in proportion to its population size.
"The city does not own large tracts of land that would be large enough for a park," Shackelford said. "If it were determined that a park needs to be located in a particular place in town, the city would acquire the land."
Both Fagan and Kana said they understand the importance of parks in the community and plan to continue improving existing properties and looking for other means of acquiring land in the near future. Such an acquisition, however, would require either receiving a donation or making a purchase.
In the Tomball Comprehensive Plan adopted by City Council in 2009, Fagan said residents identified parks and trails as important features of the community, and she plans to maintain and expand Tomball's existing parks in the future.
New city parks are not on the radar for Magnolia in the near future, aside from the installation of the inclusive playground, Kana said. In an effort to increase the amount of green space within city limits, residential developments are encouraged to create parks.
"We currently do not have much planned for new parks, [but] we do look at ways when new developments come in to have them dedicate green space for future parks, if not actually include parks in their developments," Kana said.