Houston park opens new facility amid major transformation project
The latest project from a Houston park that's got an ongoing transformation project underway has revealed its latest new feature.
Memorial Park, Houston’s most popular destination for runners and one of the best trails in Texas, has unveiled its new, state-of-art running complex on November 4. The new facility was first announced in 2019 as a part of the park's master plan redevelopment project, which includes the innovative Land Bridge that opened earlier this year.
Encompassing years in planning and constructing, this new complex features the 400-meter Roy H. Cullen Timing Track, a viewing decks, an event plaza, several gathering spaces, trails, and more. More than a simple running track, the complex is designed to be a central gathering spot for all Memorial Park visitors, notes Memorial Park Conservancy executive director Shellye Arnold. The complex will also serve as new gateway to the park’s Bayou Wilds trails.
This new complex is meant to bring more park visitors to multiple areas of the park, Arnold notes, as well as improve track conditions for the thousands who use it, including Houston Astros and Texans players and Olympians. (Olympic legend Carl Lewis is a frequent user.)
“The old timing track in the park is just worn down and not really that accurate, and it has strange turns and corners,” Arnold tells CultureMap. “The running complex is very fitting for the park and for Houston.”
Credit goes to the game-changing Ten-Year Plan, which turned the Memorial Park Master Plan marathon into a sprint with an accelerated set of projects via catalyst gift from the Kinder Foundation and various donors. Partners include the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Uptown Development Authority, and Kinder Foundation, and the City of Houston Mayor’s Office.
That mean a new experience not just for runners, joggers, and walkers, but all visitors.
“It’s a microcosm of the park, a place where a lot of people go and train at four or five in the morning,” adds Arnold. “But it’s a gathering place in the woods. If you think about Memorial Park, part of the whole experience is being immersed in nature. And so this particular timing track is really much more nature immersive than the old timing track.”
Community access is also a priority, for adults and kids.
“There are a lot of schools in Houston that don’t have access to a high quality track — or a track at all,” Arnold says. “And so now, their runners can come out and use the track. It won’t be used for meets, because we won’t close it off to the public very often at all. But it’s all about accessibility. Any school in Houston that wants to use it will be able to bring their students out and enjoy it.”
So while running may be the draw, really, it’s the complex is yet another chance to enjoy Memorial Park’s 1,500 acres and 25 miles worth of trails.
“There are places to hang out,” says Arnold. “There will be a cafe that will open up nearby in the first half of 2024 and an event plaza that’s also opening that will be a place to gather or just hang out with a group. Those are some of the many of the reasons that we did this. All the things that we do is to build community and foster a sense of connectedness — and this track will do that.”
This article originally ran on CultureMap.