Memorial Park Has a lot going on right now. It's a great outdoor destination to take the family this holiday season for some exercise and fresh air, and, new to this year, Christmas lights. But whether you plan to hit up the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, trek the "Ho Chi Minh" trail, or even have a picnic, there are a few things you should know before venturing out—also be prepared for construction along Memorial Drive and have patience for your fellow Houstonians, y'all. 'Tis the season.
Land Bridge Construction
Installation of the tunnel arches has begun on Memorial Drive—a milestone for the park as it constructs its new land bridge and prairie, and a $70 million project (part of a $205 million ten year master plan)—is set for full completion by October 2022. The tunnel construction will actually be complete by Fall 2021, though, and traffic will flow through it as pedestrians and wildlife will eventually roam the land bridge above. Memorial Drive remains open (though reduced to two lanes with drivers still going as fast as possible, naturally) during the project and you can actually see the first of the two massive arches—400-feet long and comprised of hundreds of concrete panels that weigh just under 50,000 pounds a piece—right now from S Picnic Loop (granted, behind a gate).
Picnic Loop Access
If you haven’t been to the park in a while, keep in mind the only entry onto S Picnic Loop is its gated main entrance, which was seemingly locked for years and now closes at 8 p.m. every night, to the east of the two S Picnic Lane stoplights. You can't access much of S Picnic Lane at all by car—it’s closed for construction because this area is going to become the land bridge, i.e., no more road—just the loop itself, where parking is free and close to the mountain biking (and hiking) trails. Cars can only use S Picnic Lane’s western-most entrance (by the train tracks) to get to the Cullen Running Trails Center. As for now, you can still run and bike on S Picnic Lane and the picnic loop, of course which we all know is essentially a community velodrome anyway.
COVID-19 Testing at Cullen Running Trails Center
About the running trails center: The Houston Health Department and Curative are operating a Covid-19 testing site (mouth self-swab) in the parking lot west of the building (you’ll notice the tents and a van), Sunday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., through the end of January. You’ll want to make a reservation at curative.com (Memorial Park Conservancy—Van is the listing; December 23 is next available appointment date).
A Trail Switcheroo
Beyond the running trails center, out in the land of native snakes and dirt trails, there’s a new Purple Trail re-route that’s open with views of Buffalo Bayou. RIP to another bayou-front trail, Call Out, which is becoming unsafe due to erosion and is now no longer accessible to the public. Instead, the conservancy plans to turn it into a forested area with more native plantings.
Holidays in the Eastern Glades
And lastly, if roaming the woods isn’t your thing, there are holiday lights at Houston’s favorite new inner loop outdoor destination, The Clay Family Eastern Glades—easily walkable for the entire family. If you haven’t ventured to the eastern glades yet, there’s no better time—the festive lights are sparkling every night until January 3, and food trucks are slinging eats in Live Oak Court (the food truck hub) on weekends. Do social distance, mask up, and get the parkmobile app—it’s now pay-to-park in the surrounding lots until 9 p.m.—and consider bringing a blanket for the pristine central lawn. You might just want to take those shoes off and feel the lush, soft grass beneath your feet.