Walk the plank.

The Houston Arboretum has been undergoing some major changes over the past year thanks to its intriguing new Master Plan, and as of today, June 15, its newly renovated Woodway entrance and parking area is open to the public. Of course, there is still a lot to come regarding the Master Plan, but more about that in a moment. First, here's what to expect:

The new parking area allows visitors to be immersed in the environment from the moment they step out of their cars. There's a cool new boardwalk surrounding two new ponds and new trails that feature Houston's natural "pimples and dimples" landscape, native plants and a huge restoration effort that has already started to attract more wildlife to the area. And you can rest your feet in the new field station.

A new field station offers seating and info about your surroundings.

The Arboretum developed its new Master Plan after a huge tree mortality event between 2008 and 2011, when it lost nearly half of its canopy to hurricanes and drought. But it wasn't entirely tragic because many of these trees were really invasive species. This made the Arboretum's staff realize that perhaps it should focus on restoring native habitat—some piney woods, sure, but also Post Oak savanna and Gulf Coast prairie—to create a far healthier landscape. The restoration is working. The Arboretum suffered almost no damage during Harvey because the ground soaked up flood waters like a sponge.

As the Arboretum continues to make progress on its Master Plan, expect to see new facilities—including new buildings for classes and events, a state-of-the-art playground, expanding trails, and new field stations to come. As it stands right now, the Arboretum is already so worth the trip.

Arboretum residents.

After a recent evening lecture here—topics range from insects to edible plants, and they all include free libations and snacks (yes, cheese!) with the entry cost—our guided tour through the Arboretum in the dark was a delight. As the sun set low, bats not only circled overhead but flew inches from our faces, using their precise sonar to dive-bomb the mosquitoes and bugs we were stirring up, all without landing in anybody's hair. Hawks circled around the windswept tallgrass of the meadow. At the large pond, our guide showed us how to catch the glittery eyes of frogs with a flashlight, their toady chirping like the sound of plucked banjo strings.

Shine your flashlight on land and the sparkle you'll see will be that of spiders—hundreds of them, which you probably wouldn't notice during the day (sorry, arachnophobes). You might spot an armadillo, have a beetle buzz by your head,  or just take in the sea-anemone-like beauty of the purple passion flower as a train passes on the nearby tracks just east of the Arboretum. It's all peaceful, natural splendor out here and it's free if you just head out to walk around on your own. 

All that and the large pond is also now home to a small alligator. How it got there is anybody's guess.

Correction: This article previously announced the opening as June 21, but the new Woodway entrance is officially open as of June 15 at 4501 Woodway Dr.

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