Project connects urban environments with preservation corridor

The Spring Creek Greenway, which features a large section located in The Woodlands, is expanding both its land coverage and its scope of features.

A 7.5-mile stretch connecting Jesse H. Jones Park with Pundt Park in Harris County was dedicated during a March 10 ceremony. Once completed, Spring Creek Greenway will be a 33-mile preserve that will be the largest connected green corridor in an urban area in the U.S., according to those involved in the project.

"Conservation has always been an important topic," said Robert Collins, special counsel for Montgomery County Precinct 3. "This stretch is another opportunity to leave as much land as possible in its natural state, and it is a tremendous asset to the region."

The greenway spans from FM 2978 in southern Montgomery County east to Hwy. 59 in northern Harris County with Spring Creek separating the counties. Ultimately, it will connect and preserve about 15,000 acres of forest while offering education and recreation resources.

People visiting the Spring Creek Greenway can now travel by foot, bicycle or horseback through large gateway preserves including the Montgomery County Preserve, Peckinpaugh Preserve, Pundt Park or Jones Park. There are also bridges, places to fish and beaches, Collins said.

The newly-added stretch of land will include additional hiking, bicycle and horseback riding paths as well as areas for people to bring canoes and kayaks to paddle along the creek.

On the Montgomery County side, there are three main gateway preserves along the Spring Creek Greenway: the 71-acre Montgomery County Preserve on Pruitt Road, the 61-acre Peckinpaugh Preserve on Riley Fuzzel Road and the 1,700-acre George Mitchell Nature Preserve on Flintridge Drive in The Woodlands.

The Mitchell preserve protects 1,700 acres. The preserve, named after the founder of The Woodlands, was dedicated in October 2007. It includes hiking and bike trails as well as paths that encircle Bedias Lake. There is also a Spring Creek Preserve on Glen Loch Drive and the Old Riley Fuzzel Road Preserve, Collins said.

Mitigation efforts

The Bayou Land Conservancy, a nonprofit partner on the project, brought in millions of dollars and performed wetland mitigation actions in order to maintain momentum on the preservation efforts, said Jennifer Lorenz, executive director of the conservancy.

"We help fill in the gaps of the greenway so it will be the largest connected urban corridor in the country," she adds.

Mitigating the area enables floodways and flood plains to remain intact. It also preserves the soil, plants and animals living along the creek while giving the millions of migration birds coming across the Gulf of Mexico a place to rest, Lorenz says.

As the project continues to move forward, the Bayou Land Conservancy is mitigating two more large tracts of land. Dennis Johnston, park administrator for Harris County Precinct 4, said Harris and Montgomery counties are close to having purchased all the land along the creek between I-45 and Hwy. 59. Once the counties complete land acquisition near Hwy. 59, the greenway will connect Kingwood's 100 miles of trails to the corridor.

Future Development

Collins said Montgomery County has acquired land west to Tomball and expects to keep pushing even farther west in the future. The project, developed in several phases, has received about $2.5 million in grants from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The grants were split between the two counties, with Harris using its part to build out trails and connect land parcels, and Montgomery using its to acquire land, Johnston said.

Future plans also include developing natural surface loop trails off the 10-foot wide asphalt trails currently running throughout the greenway. In addition, the counties want to build ramps up to an ironwork expansion bridge going over the San Jacinto River that includes a pedestrian crossing, he added.

Also in the works is a plan to connect 100 miles of trails located in The Woodlands to the greenway. Johnston said bus riders at a park and ride in Harris County could bring their bicycles and ride to work to the planned ExxonMobil development, whose nearby campus will eventually connect to the greenway. There is also consideration of connecting the trails to George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

"Could you imagine getting off of your plane, taking a short limo or van ride to the stables, getting on a horse, and riding into the greenway?" Johnston said. "We'd like to be able to ride all the way to The Woodlands Conference Center."

Project history

Though the Spring Creek Greenway project became official in 2004, parcels along the creek had been purchased decades prior. Some of the tracts were bought in the early 1980s by Sen. Jon Lindsay, then a Harris County judge. Of the parcels he owned, 150 acres became the Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, the Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens and Cypresswood Golf Course, Johnston says.

Twenty years later, Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole continued the idea of preserving land by connecting Jones Park with other nearby parcels. Eversole approached Montgomery County's Precinct 3 Commissioner Ed Chance to join the project, Collins said.

"We have had a wonderful working relationship," Collins said. "This has been a great opportunity to protect connected waterways still in near pristine state."