The new 100-acre project, designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, thoughtfully reconnects the park and converts previously degraded and inaccessible land into healthy native ecologies for the benefit of Houstonians, wildlife, and the environment.
Expanding the existing network of trails and creating a dynamic new community space, the Kinder Land Bridge and Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Prairie offers enhanced active and passive recreation opportunities for Park users alongside unmatched views of Houston’s urban skylines.
The project consists of four spacious tunnels, two in each direction of traffic measuring 300 and 460 feet long respectively, which together enable over 55,000 cars each day to pass below the massive earthen Land Bridge. The four tunnels were constructed of 620 separate prefabricated concrete panel arches that resolve at each end with geometrically pure cast-in-place elliptical headwalls.
Subsuming the six-lane highway that has bisected Memorial Park since the 1950’s, the Land Bridge tunnels are blanketed with layers of soil, plantings and hardscape to create new park land that rises up and over the noisy roadway, re-connecting the north and south halves of the park. The earthen blanket of the Land Bridge effectively diminishes traffic noise, improving the experiences of pedestrian visitors and non-human inhabitants of the Park.
A Visionary Plan for the Future of Memorial Park
The Master Plan was created in response to multiple factors including severe storm events and an historic drought that had devastated the trees and environmental conditions of Memorial Park, as well as general degradation throughout the park from decades of heavy use. Highlights and benefits of Memorial Park’s Land Bridge and Prairie include:
• Greater safety and connectivity for both humans and animals crossing Memorial Drive. The Land Bridge establishes two dynamic greenspace connections over Memorial Drive that reunite the north and south sides of the Park while expanding the existing trail network and providing increased connectivity within the Park. While the Land Bridge provides connectivity for Park visitors and wildlife over Memorial Drive, a culvert for a stream corridor constructed to run through the Prairie provides connectivity under Memorial Drive. This culvert also serves as a wildlife tunnel.
• Reestablishment of native coastal prairie will enable a more resilient ecology during extreme weather events and improve animal habitats. Although this site was native coastal prairie hundreds and thousands of years ago, most recently this area was largely occupied by ballfields, parking lots and a roadway, which have been relocated to the north side of the park. Native coastal prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America, with less than 1% of its historic range remaining today. These forthcoming ecosystems will nurture existing wildlife and attract additional species, thereby promoting biodiversity.
• Improvements to stormwater management by detaining stormwater that flows through Memorial Park to Buffalo Bayou during heavy rain events, lessening the impact of peak storms. An ephemeral stream channel constructed through the site, along with a network of native prairie and savanna, will support greater regional biodiversity and act as a green sponge helping to absorb and clean stormwater. Similarly, constructed wetlands will help to purify stormwater and reduce roadway pollutants that would otherwise be released into the watershed.
• Creation of a new iconic destination for visitors that will offer a variety of enjoyable experiences and newly accessible public space for gathering and recreation. These will enhance the urban wilderness character of the Park and provide more opportunities for nature education, leisure walking, interval running and cycling, stargazing, relaxing and more. At 34 feet high above Memorial Drive, the Land Bridge will offer incomparable views of the Uptown and Downtown Houston skylines and unique points of prospect over the surrounding Memorial Park landscape.
Native Prairie Restoration
While the Land Bridge itself will be completed in early 2023, the prairie conversion process will take years to establish and fully mature. This large-scale prairie restoration offers Park users the unique opportunity to see a native Gulf Coast prairie conversion process at work, from the ground up, that will evolve over the seasons as the grasses and plantings interweave and establish.
Park visitors will be able to experience this dynamic landscape while meandering through the prairie on boardwalks and trails. The Prairie conversion will be aided by Memorial Park Conservancy’s BioCycle Program, which utilizes trees lost in the 2011-2012 drought and other trees removed within Memorial Park, to create abundant, rich compost soil for the project.
In addition to the compost, living organisms (barely visible fungi) were collected from nearby prairie ecosystems and added to soil on the Land Bridge and Prairie to increase biological activity for healthy growth. This soil-deep rehabilitated ecology will sequester atmospheric carbon, providing cleaner air, increasing stormwater resiliency, and improving animal habitat. Source by Memorial Park Conservancy and photo Courtesy of KUBANY.