About $33.5 million of Harris County Flood Control District’s $2.5 billion bond package has been invested in lands along Cypress and Spring creeks since 2018 as part of ongoing greenway projects—efforts that county leaders said will continue for decades.

The Cypress Creek and Spring Creek greenway projects—which each aim to connect more than 40 miles of walking and biking trails along the creeks in Spring and beyond—have been in the works for almost five decades, and the completion could be just as far away.

“These two projects will most likely continue for decades into the future,” said Dennis Johnston, Harris County Precinct 4 parks director. “Some sections are very complex, including bridges and crossings under railroads and highways. Completing them is also subject to future funding opportunities.”

The HCFCD has been working on acquiring the land needed for the projects as the bond approved by voters in 2018 included $100 million in funding for the Cypress Creek watershed and $50 million for the Spring Creek watershed for right of way acquisition and flood plain preservation.

Of this money, a little under $33.5 million has been spent, and about 598 acres have been acquired along Cypress and Spring creeks. Additionally, another 1,084 acres of land are in the process of being acquired.

Efforts to complete the Cypress Creek Greenway Project have officials focused on the west side of Hwy. 249 near the Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve. Meanwhile, in December, the fate of 206 acres of land along Cypress Creek where Raveneaux Country Club once stood was left in limbo after HCFCD and landowner Cypress Forest Public Utility District failed to come to an agreement over the land’s future use.

While these projects are pending, Harris County residents are also waiting to see how commissioner precincts 3 and 4 will be run after decennial redistricting swapped the two precinct’s service areas.

Going west

The Cypress Creek and Spring Creek greenway projects were originally conceived in the late 1970s. Since 2011, about 12,000 acres of land have been acquired and 33.2 miles of trails have been constructed for both projects, Precinct 4 officials said.

The greenways are already making positive contributions to nearby communities, including flood prevention, wildlife conservation and recreational opportunities, Johnston said. Officials, including Jill Bouillon, who serves as the executive director for the Bayou Land Conservancy, said trail use has surged during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Usage has increased significantly since the onset of the pandemic with people using it for exercise, an outdoor classroom, a mental health break and more,” Bouillon said.

Since 2011, 13.38 miles have been completed along Cypress Creek, which runs from Humble through Spring and into Cypress.

About 30% of the greenway’s planned 40 miles of trails have been connected so far, Johnston said. In the Spring area, trails heading east from Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve remain unconnected to Champion Forest Park, and Collins Park trails are not yet joined with Herman Little Park.

Of the $100 million set aside from the 2018 flood bond for Cypress Creek, a little less than $29 million has been spent thus far, according to HCFCD officials. The acreage acquired by the HCFCD using these funds totals about 428, while about 1,015 acres are in the process of being acquired.

While most of the work completed along Cypress Creek has been focused east of Hwy. 249, next steps include connecting trails located to the west, Johnston said. On the horizon are $1.2 million in highway undercrossings, which will be located on the north and south sides of Hwy. 249, and a $2.1 million boardwalk trail that will link the 100-Acre Woods Preserve to Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve.

Construction on the projects had been planned for September 2021 with an estimated completion by the first quarter of 2022. However, Johnston said the projects have been delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Once redistricting is finalized, it will be up to Precinct 3 to determine when these projects will continue.

Hewlett Packard Enterprises, the D. Bradley McWilliams YMCA at Cypress Creek and Houston Northwest Baptist Church recently donated land to the project, Johnston said, meaning the Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve loop to Faulkey Gully needs one more parcel of land to be completed.

“We are in talks with [the owners],” Johnston said.

In addition, Precinct 4 has awarded a contract to build trails following Cypress Creek upstream from the Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve on the north and south side of Hwy. 249, said Jim Robertson, the chair for the Cypress Creek Greenway Project.

“The trail will connect from where the bridge is on the south side of Cypresswood [and] will eventually go up and connect into the trails that are at the YMCA,” Robertson said.

Another project that could also be added along Cypress Creek is a stormwater detention basin on the former site of Raveneaux Country Club, which the HCFCD acquired for $11.4 million in January 2020. Negotiations on that property, however, came to a standstill in December and HCFCD officials did not have an update on the project’s future as of press time.

Ongoing negotiations

Once connected, the Spring Creek Greenway will span 40 miles and follow Spring Creek from Humble through City Place and into Tomball. Since the 2018 bond, the HCFCD has invested about $4.5 million into Spring Creek and has acquired about 170 acres thus far. About 69 acres are still in the process of being acquired.

The Spring Creek Greenway contains 19.82 miles of unconnected trails and is about 50% complete, Johnston said. Much of these trails in the Spring area are already merged; however, a quarter-mile section that would link trails from City Place to Dennis Johnston Park has yet to be constructed.

This missing stretch of greenway runs adjacent to ExxonMobil’s campus in City Place. Negotiations between Harris County and ExxonMobil leaders regarding the trail have stalled for years, according to Mike Howlett, who retired from the county in 2019 after 25 years.

“[ExxonMobil] leadership would change or different things would happen that would pretty much put the county back to square one trying to negotiate a trail alignment,” he said.

Since then, negotiations with ExxonMobil regarding the trail have been taken over by Coventry—the developer of City Place.

“They have agreed to construct that missing quarter-mile connection at I-45,” Johnston said.

ExxonMobil declined to comment on the negotiations. Coventry did not respond to requests for comment.

Changing leadership

The projects have been a collaboration between Harris County commissioner precincts with Precinct 4 spearheading efforts in the Spring area. With decennial redistricting likely going into effect in late March, Spring will now fall under Precinct 3 instead of Precinct 4.

“I don’t know what the future holds for the Spring Creek Greenway,” Howlett said. “Because we don’t even know anything about the new commissioner that’s coming into this revised precinct now. So I’m very concerned about the future of the greenway.”

In a Jan. 27 interview, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey said he is already working with Clark Candon, a Houston-based landscape architecture firm, to create a parks master plan for the entire precinct.

“I am championing [Precinct 4] Commissioner [Jack] Cagle’s commitment to parks,” he said. “We think [parks] are a priority. We’re going to do some great things in our parks in the new [Precinct] 3.”