More than $100 million in potential needs were identified in a parks and recreation needs assessment conducted by The Woodlands Township beginning in February with a new park along Gosling Road and upgrades to two Alden Bridge park facilities topping the list of recommended projects.

The scope of the projects extends through 2036 or beyond, but immediate needs will likely focus on the three large park facilities, Chief Operating Officer Chris Nunes said at the township’s August budget workshop meetings.

Other planned improvements, such as the addition of a $1.5 million lazy river and improvements to the Texas TreeVentures outdoor climbing facility, could add to the township’s tourist appeal, officials said.

“The proposed lazy river, the addition of more pickleball, the expansion of TreeVentures, those are all targeted at bringing more visitors into the area in the next five years,” said Bruce Rieser, vice chair of The Woodlands board of directors.

As of press time, the items budgeted for fiscal year 2023 were subject to approval at a Sept. 12 meeting of the township board of directors. However, an initial phase of about $23.45 million in parks improvements was discussed at August board meetings that could be implemented from 2023-25 with $8.19 million in needs identified in 2023.

The projects can be funded largely through township reserves that are accumulated through excess sales tax revenue, officials said. Program revenues offset some of the costs of the amenities.

The projects tentatively slated to begin in 2023 include improvements at the Alden Bridge Sports Park, Bear Branch fields and Gosling Sports Fields, according to township officials.

In addition, work will be underway this fall on pickleball courts as the first phase of a total of $4.4 million in previously approved improvements at Falconwing Park.

Rieser said he believes the demand for the recreation programs is high.

“We’re bulging at the seams already with the amount of activity on the fields, and a lot of these improvements are necessary just to keep up,” Rieser said in a phone interview.

Immediate needs

In addition to the proposed $8.19 million for upcoming parks improvements, $8.63 million in projects are proposed for 2024 and $6.63 million for 2025.

For long-term needs, consultants identified a potential need for $3.8 million for Alden Bridge Park, $34 million for Alden Bridge Sports Park, $36 million for a new South Gosling Road park, $40 million for other existing park improvements and $12.64 million for field improvements. Township officials said reserve funds can likely be used to offset costs of many projects.Previous parks and recreation needs assessments were conducted in 2003 and 2011, Nunes said.

“As a best practice, it is standard to do a needs assessment master plan on a routine basis,” Nunes said.

Hugo Colon, a project manager with consultant agency Asakura Robinson, conducted the 2022 analysis and presented the results at July and August township board meetings.

Expenses in the first year are aimed at beginning several of the townshipwide park projects, such as adding pickleball courts and restrooms to Alden Bridge.

More facilities are needed for pickleball, which has people lining up at tennis courts waiting for an opportunity to play, said Adda Cuthbert, founder of The Woodlands Pickleball Association.

“What really kicked it off here was COVID[-19]. I think that with everything else closing down it was an activity people could set up in the cul-de-sac and the driveway, and it has gone from there,” Cuthbert said.

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, table tennis and badminton, according to the USA Pickleball Association.

“Knowing that pickleball is a ‘hot topic’ in this community ... we may be able to put pickleball in a little earlier,” Nunes said at the Aug. 24 board meeting.

The first phase of a $4.23 million Falconwing Park renovation this fall includes adding pickleball courts. The project will be complete by spring break in 2023, Nunes said.

Budgeting for recreation needs

Not all of the projects identified in the needs assessment will necessarily come to fruition, Nunes said. However, the projects identified for Alden Bridge Sports Park and the new Gosling Road park are two of the larger projects being prioritized.

Alden Bridge Sports Park, located off Hwy. 242, has considerable parking and restroom needs, Nunes said.

A site east of Gosling Road roughly across from Woods Edge Church has also been identified for a new park.

“It would be a great entryway for our community in Creekside Park,” Nunes said.

Nunes said projects originating from the needs assessment will come back to the board during design and bid phases for additional review and approvals, so details may be updated over time. The plan will also be reviewed during subsequent budget cycles as the current cycle only covers 2023, he said.

Over the past five years, the township has spent more of its capital improvement fund on parks and recreation than any other department.

In 2022, 46.6% of the township’s capital projects budget went to parks and recreation. Operating expenditures in 2022 for parks and recreation were $24.63 million, or 19% of the township’s operating budget.

One municipality in the Greater Houston area that was used as a peer city during the 2019-21 incorporation study was Sugar Land. Its 2022 operating budget for parks and recreation is 1.8% of its expenditures. However, Sugar Land has 27 parks and 35 miles of trails, compared to The Woodlands’ 150 parks and 220 miles of trails.

Other recreation improvements

Other capital projects for parks and recreation outside of the needs assessment study come in at about $20 million for 2023, including funding for items at Bear Branch Park, improvements to the Texas TreeVentures complex and a lazy river. “I mentioned it would be nice if we had the state’s longest lazy river in a public pool,” Chair Gordy Bunch said at an Aug. 23 budget meeting

Nunes said there is room in Bear Branch Park between the pool and the recreation center for a lazy river. The longest river would need to be more than 1 mile long, Nunes said, but the township could manage the longest in the immediate area. Whether the project could begin in 2023 or 2024 was not determined at the budget meetings.

“This park would be the place to be,” Director Jason Nelson said at the Aug. 23 meeting.

Rieser said he believes the enhanced amenities also add to the township’s appeal as a tourist destination. “I expect that sports tourism will be a bigger focus for us,” Rieser said in an interview.

Maryann Braid, village association president in Alden Bridge, said amenities are important to residents and a source of pride in the community.

“There was always the attitude that The Woodlands wanted to have things that weren’t available other places,” Braid said.