Some local park space in the Heights has fallen victim to weather hazards, and preliminary plans are set for a project aimed at restoring the area’s beauty while creating a safer outdoor experience.
Nestled near the intersection of Ella Boulevard and White Oak Bayou, Little Thicket Park has been a place where visitors can enjoy the walking trail or have a picnic at a shady table since 1957. But over time, its border slope along neighboring Little Thicket Bayou has eroded and begun eating into the park space.
Residents have previously raised concerns over littering and other quality-of-life issues, which is prompting action on their behalf.
“In some places, we have lost enough stability that some of the trees have begun falling over since they no longer have anything to hold onto, and in some cases a sheer drop of at least 20 feet,” said Kristen Hennings, senior project manager with Jones and Carter Engineering, at a public meeting last week. “We simply need to do something about this.”
The Little Thicket Park Slope Stabilization Project is a joint undertaking by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department and the Memorial Heights Redevelopment Authority (TIRZ 5), with each entity kicking in half of the roughly $800,000 necessary to proceed. Jones and Carter will oversee construction management on the endeavor.
“What’s happening right now is destroying the park,” TIRZ 5 President Sherry Weesner said. “This just needs to happen, so we leveraged our funds to make it work.”
District C council member and Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen has been a proponent of the park’s improvement since it came to her attention during her first term in 2012, when her office began working with the Shady Acres Civic Club to find potential solutions. She also contributed $45,000 from her Council District Service Funds for the park design costs in 2015.
“I think it’s important that we have a safe park where residents, especially the children, can go and do as they please,” she said. “Over time, erosion becomes a major safety issue – and I want safe parks.”
Starting from the water’s edge, Jones and Carter recommends installing a brick wrap to help stabilize the portion of the slope that would be most influenced by the water’s movement. From there, gabion baskets (wire cages filled with rocks) and gabion mattresses – which will allow dislodged sediment to spread along the water’s edge without eroding it – will follow to help stabilize. Gabions are rectangular, compartmented baskets made of galvanized wire mesh typically used for erosion control.
“As time passes and water rises and falls in the bayou, the sediment will begin to silt out across the gabion mattress so it won’t be so stark in contrast,” Hennings said. “Then, that silt vegetation will start to grow and other vegetation will grow over it, so you’ll have a greener situation that should look nice.”
At the next wall, Jones and Carter is recommending a multi-tiered vegetated terrace filled with native grasses and trees. Along with beautifying the area, Hennings said doing so will create firmer roots to mitigate effects of erosion.
Topping it all off will be a wooden fence that will separate Little Thicket Park from its connecting bayou.
“We can use these opportunities to plant something that will help those roots to hold soil and hold that slope in place,” Hennings said. “This project lets us play on the other vegetation with the area and keep it looking like a natural bayou setting.”
Hennings said plans have already been submitted to both the city and Harris County Flood Control District for permitting approval, which Jones and Carter hopes will happen this coming spring. If all goes according to plan, she said construction is slated to begin this summer and take 6-8 months.
“District C is quickly gentrifying and expanding, so it’s important to do what we can to ensure we do have available greenspaces, and that the ones we do have can be safe and enjoyable,” Cohen said.