Friday, 23 October 2015 16:36

Transformed Buffalo Bayou Park Beckons Houstonians Outdoors

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The Allen brothers founded Houston when they discovered the green, leafy banks of Buffalo Bayou. Nearly 180 years later, Houstonians are rediscovering the very origins of their city, thanks to a massive Buffalo Bayou Park makeover.


Mayor Annise Parker says Buffalo Bayou has always been one of her favorite places in Houston, but she’s quick to admit that her opinion wasn’t always shared by the majority of Houstonians.

“Buffalo Bayou was messy, weedy and difficult to navigate, but it gave a sense of what was possible. If you see this stretch of Buffalo Bayou from a canoe or a kayak, there are places you can forget you are in the middle of the city, and that is absolutely priceless,” Parker said at the Buffalo Bayou Park Grand Opening on Oct. 3.

The waterway was once known as the “reeking regatta,” but the 160-acre Buffalo Bayou Park has been transformed into a destination that beckons Houstonians to enjoy the outdoors.

The park features kayaking and canoeing, hike and bike trails and tranquil water features. There’s a dog park, skate park, nature play and picnic pavillion. The Waugh Bridge bat colony offers an evening spectacle, and an outdoor performance space hosts concerts and productions. And park users can also access a visitor’s center, grab a bite at a grab-n-go restaurant, and enjoy public art by local and world-famous artists — all set against views of the city’s skyline.

“This park is absolutely phenomenal,” District C Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said at the Grand Opening. “People are running, and people are meditating. There are cyclists and skaters, stroller pushers and dog walkers. It’s everything to everybody. Many cities are proud of their brick and mortar, and we are proud of our brick and mortar, but great cities are proud of their green spaces.”

Stretching from Shepherd Drive to Sabine Street between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive, Buffalo Bayou Park is a city park, but the recent renovations are the result of a public-private partnership between the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Buffalo Bayou Partnership, the Harris County Flood District, and private donors — most notably, Houston philanthropists Rich and Nancy Kinder, who donated $30 million. Buffalo Bayou Partnership also raised $23.5 million from more than 850 individual donors.

“This has always been a city park, but the Kinder Foundation, Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Harris County Flood Control coming together gave us this beautiful park we see today,” said Parks Director Joe Turner. “It took approximately $60 million to make this happen. The exciting part for me, and anyone who visits this park, is that we have a $2 million maintenance budget that won’t go away. So that means the way you see it today is the way it will be maintained. Buffalo Bayou Partnership is doing the maintenance, and we are extremely pleased to be partnered with them.”

Highlights of the park makeover include:

  • Construction of The Water Works, an elevated lawn and outdoor performance space serving as an entry point for the park off Sabine Street. The facility’s name is a nod to its subterranean neighbor, the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, a partially buried, abandoned underground drinking water reservoir built in 1927. The Water Works will have a periscopic view of the Cistern, which is not accessible to the public.

  • The Wortham Insurance Visitor’s Center and Terrace is adjacent to the Water Works and offers restrooms and a bike rental facility.

  •  The Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area and Picnic Pavilion was designed to inspire children to learn and love nature. The park features a boulder rock scramble, a rolling lawn, a stream and waterfall, climbing logs and stones, and a 33-foot slide — all with easy access to parking, restrooms, and the play area’s picnic pavilion for special events and birthday parties.

  • Two canoe and kayak launches easily accessed from the Sabine Street bridge and City Lot H.

  • Recent improvements to Eleanor Tinsley Park include the Bud Light Amphitheater, a sand volleyball court, the open-air Nau Family Pavilion, and a trail providing a direct connection to Sabine Promenade.

  • Restoration of natural landscapes, including trees and native grasses.

  • New and upgraded trails that will bring walkers and hikers in closer contact with nature and the bayou, plus separate, wider trails for cyclists.

  • Two pedestrian bridges, one near Jackson Hill Street and the other at the Police Memorial.

  • Blue lunar cycle lighting along the major Sandy Reed Memorial Trail. The light will transition from white, to blue, to white as the moon waxes and wanes

  • Addition of a semicircular grove of trees with lighting, gardens and benches in front of the “Dandelion,” Gus S. Wortham Memorial Fountain.

  • Lost Lake on Allen Parkway near Dunlavy, which is the site of a former pond that was lost in the 1970s when a dam across a natural ravine broke. The pond was restored and creates a tranquil space with reflecting pond, waterfalls, benching, dining tables and launch for paddle craft rentals. On the banks of Lost Lake is The Dunlavy, a private event venue, and The Kitchen at Dunlavy, a grab-n-go eatery open for breakfast and lunch daily. About 80 new parking spaces are now available near the entrance of Lost Lake.

 Browse through our gallery of Buffalo Bayou Park, and take a tour in person. You can learn more at Buffalo Bayou Partnership page, which features an audio tour of the park. 


Kayaking down Buffalo Bayou just got a little easier with new canoe/kayak launches and greater accessibility. 


Cyclists and skaters can ride on wider, separate paths than pedestrians.


Children can splash, climb and play all while discovering nature in the Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area and Picnic Pavilion.  


Park visitors will find a wealth of civic art including  this 20-foot stainless steel canoe sculpture "It Wasn't a Dream, It Was a Flood," by John Runnels. 


Mayor Annise Parker speaks at the Buffalo Bayou Park Grand Opening on October 3.


The park renovations would not have been possible without the generous $30 million catalyst from the Kinder Foundation. Above, Rich Kinder shares his thanks for making their vision become reality.


Families play frisbee in Eleanor Tinsley Park while listening to live music from the newly built stage and pavillion. 


The Houston Police Officers' Memorial is a tranquil place to pay your respects to the police officers whose lives were lost in the line of duty. 


Buffalo Bayou Park is home to the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, but skaters are free to share the trails with cyclists and pedestrians.


At the corner of Studemont and Allen Parkway are Jaume Plensa's Tolerance sculptures. A local mom's group takes in a stroll with toddlers in tow. 


The Rosemont bridge connects neighborhoods and trails north of Studemont with the rest of the park.


The Johnny Steele Dog Park at Studemont and Allen Parkway is the go-to dog park of the city. Separated into areas for larger and smaller dogs, pups can safely, fetch, splash and swim.


The area around the Gus. S. Wortham Memorial Fountail has been enhanced with benches, gardens and a grove of trees.


At Lost Lake, The Dunlavy, a new private event space, is under construction. The Dunlavy also offers daily grab-n-go breakfast and lunch and a relaxing outdoor patio to enjoy a light meal.


Lost Lake was built on the site of a former pond that was lost when a dam broke in the 1970s. The area has been transformed into gardens, waterfalls and a reflecting pond.


A local mom's group meets at Lost Lake to take in the fresh air with their young children.

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