We already love Memorial Park. From the Houston Aboretum to the coyotes to the Seymour Lieberman Running Trail at dusk on a cool fall day, it's one of the city's finest escapes. But there's yet another reason to add to that list: The new Clay Family Eastern Glades, which quietly opened on July 29 and, honestly, is like having an entirely new park at hand.
Perhaps you remember that big green fence that was erected alongside the southeast side of the Lieberman trail over a year ago or longer? Yeah, that’s where the glades were hiding while being restored. We got a small preview of what was to come last year when the park opened up a small section of the glades, but now the fence is gone, and as for the big reveal—well, prepare to have your mind blown.
The new 100-acre park space, a whopping $35-million undertaking (and named after donors Emily and Robert Clay), was designed in honor of the park’s original master plan from the 1930’s, but also with a renewed emphasis on science-driven resilience and conservation in mind. It’s the first major project of the 2015 Memorial Park Master Plan and its associated Ten-Year Plan, which will install one of the biggest park's projects in the nation, the Land Bridge, over Memorial Drive just east of the train tracks come 2022—construction launched this week—among other things.
As for the Eastern Glades, they're truly an outdoor treat during these trying times. Other than the oodles of dragonflies, birds, sun flowers, bushes of plump beauty berries, and hundreds of native plants and trees, here’s what we really love about it:
The trails and elevated boardwalk.
There's heavy woodpecker activity along the Glade’s new elevated boardwalk, which winds through a shady stretch of the Arboretum-like habitat where wetlands (and a natural fault line!) meet pine forest, strewn with snags, dead trees that have been left to decompose naturally—the boardwalk’s peculiar design is meant to somewhat mimic them. Signage, which will inform visitors on local ecology, and benches are forthcoming. Overall, the glades boasts a total of 2.5 miles of trail that connects 40-acres of restored wetlands, savannah, and pine forest habitat and also hooks up to the Lieberman.
Bat and birdwatching on Hines Lake.
Yes, there is a new 5.5-acre lake in the park, and you’ll find newly planted cypress trees jutting out from its wetland-shelf, alongside lovely bloomers like irises and lilies. Egrets and cranes stalk the shores day and night. And thanks to a boardwalk that wraps around the lake and wetlands, including two observation decks and an Eastern and West Terrace, you can too.
While Hines Lake is a new wildlife magnet, it was also built to help with stormwater retention as well. Its wetlands barrier helps improve water quality by soaking up the stormwater runoff from the outlying area, and the lake itself can be even used to teach kids (and, fine, adults) about drought and flooding—field trip alert!
Best of all, head to the lake in the evening, and you'll find bats coming out to pick off the mosquitoes (our heroes).
The cushy Central Lawn.
Have you ever felt Zorro Zoysia turfgrass beneath your feet? You’ll definitely want to take off your shoes, throw down a blanket, and curl up on this 5.5-acre lawn with a good book when fall really arrives. This grass is so soft and dreamy—and, yes, you're allowed to walk, lounge, and picnic on it.
You can also take in the view of Hines Lake from the new "concrete ribbon" (sort of like a really long bench) that surrounds the lawn, which features an array of quotes by Houstonians, curated by 2020 Youth Poet Laureate Madison Petaway.
A new food truck hub.
The string lights are hung in Live Oak Court (a new food truck hub that's surrounded by luscious oaks), and if we could now just get Covid-19 to exit the building ...
The glades also feature two large covered pavilions with outdoor fireplaces for grilling and picnic areas as well.
An ode to history.
The new restroom facilities feature dogtrot-style architecture that harkens back to Camp Logan days. In fact picnicking itself was a big deal at Camp Logan, when civilians would bring soldiers lunch. But, in perhaps the greatest nod to the park’s history as a World War I training camp, the Eastern Glade’s new pedestrian entryway from Crestwood/Glen Cove—on Blossom Street, to be exact—is the exact location of one of the original roads into Camp Logan. It stretches for a third of a mile to the west, right over Hines Lake.
The end of invasive species.
The Conservancy’s scientific approach to this restoration removed invasive species from the Glades, replacing them with native trees and plants that will establish biodiversity, resulting in areas that are more resilient to storms and more hospitable to wildlife (so, yes, the coyotes do approve). While many of those newly planted trees—some of which were even transplanted from other areas in the park—are still small, in the years ahead we’re going to see big booming native species.
If you want to park at the Eastern Glades—turn at East Memorial Loop Road—that is one small bummer: You’ll have to pay at a machine or by the Parkmobile app, a fee of $1.50 per 3 hours. There is still free parking available along portions of the Lieberman trail if you have the will to walk over.