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Nonprofits & Charities, Parks & Outdoor

Ever-Changing Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

Posted: August 8, 2016 at 1:25 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

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The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center was originally called the Houston Arboretum and Botanical Garden.  The name change took place in 1981.

The new name better describes what this Houston treasure offers visitors daily.

My husband and I have lived in Houston, Texas for most of our lives.  We have often driven through Memorial Park but had never taken the time to visit the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center. One day we decided to remedy that oversight, and I am so glad that we did.

It is a fantastic enclave of forested areas as well as wetlands.  It also contains a sizable pond and a meadow that was at one time forested.  Once we were walking on the 5 miles of trails, it was hard to believe that this nature center is a mere 3 miles from downtown Houston!

This area has changed many times over the years!  Thousands of years ago it was heavily forested, and Native Americans were drawn to living in this locale.  The land provided fresh water, edible plants, wild game, and shelter.

During the 1800s a sawmill owned and operated by A.C. Reynolds helped change the forested landscape.

Sawmills were buzzing again during World War I when Camp Logan was established as an Army Training Camp.  In 1917 thousands of soldiers erected many camp buildings and were trained in this area before departing to fight the war in Europe.

The wealthy Hogg brothers and Henry Stude had purchased the land.  They were encouraged to believe that Houston needed a sizable park.  Fortunately, after the war, most of the property which would eventually become Memorial Park was sold to the City of Houston at their cost. The city debt was paid off in annual payments between the years 1924 to 1934.

Restrictions on the deed insured that it would remain a park for all time.

Looking skyward at Houston Arboretum

Looking skyward at Houston Arboretum

A plaque memorializes a lady who was most instrumental in establishing this park.  What is inscribed on that plaque is the following:

“Emmott Circle

Dedicated to the memory of Catharine Mary Emmott

1862 – 1949

Chairman of the Memorial Park Committee

Her love of people and the out-of-doors inspired her to suggest the creation of Memorial Park, and she worked diligently and persuasively for a year for its establishment.  When the park was opened in 1924, its 1,503 acres were dedicated to the memory of soldiers who fought in World War I.”

Many of those soldiers were injured, and many died during WWI.  So it is a fitting tribute to them to have this park named in their honor.

It is one of the largest urban parks in the United States.

Originally 265 acres of it was set aside to be used as a botanical garden and arboretum.

Funding for development of it lagged until the city stepped forth in 1964 with money for some improvements such as roads and sidewalks.

Mrs. Susan McAshan, Jr. donated funds for the building in 1966 along with operational funding for five years.  The building seen there today has grown and been expanded upon since its inception.

The Houston Botanical Society was started in 1967.   It is a non-profit organization, and they manage the facility and grounds with a small paid staff and the work of many volunteers.

There is an esplanade in the park where the Three Quarter Time Sculpture is located with one road leading to the West Loop & Woodway Drive and the other remaining on Memorial Drive.

A sizable portion of the land was eliminated because of this road construction through the park leaving 155 acres for the arboretum. Other more natural changes have taken place over time.

Many trees died back in 1979 after an invasion of Southern Pine Bark Beetles.  A meadow now exists where a forested area once stood.

The destructive force of Hurricane Ike in 2008 along with the devastating drought of 2011 caused even more tree losses.  More than 60% of the trees died because of those catastrophic events.

When my husband and I walked on the trails many of the downed trees are still seen where they fell.  Some of the dead ones were purposely cut down before they could fall and potentially do damage.

Houston Arboretum walkway from back of building

Houston Arboretum walkway from back of the building

Over the next few years, many more changes are due to take place because of a $40 million capital campaign. More trees will be planted.  Invasive species will be identified and removed.  There will be more nature trails as well as a new visitors center.  A cafe will be eventually located on site.  Additional parking spaces will be made available.

Be prepared to see some of those renovation projects underway if visiting the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center in the years ahead.  When completed it will be an even more spectacular place to visit!

The nature trails are open daily from 7 AM to 7 PM.  The arboretum building is open from 9 AM to 5 PM.  Inside the building are numerous classrooms and rooms that can be rented for special occasions.  Outside spaces can also be rented for various types of venue events including weddings.

A Discovery Room inside of the Nature Center building as well as the Nature Shop is open from 10 AM to 4 PM daily except Mondays.  It is a terrific place to teach kids of all ages things related to nature via the use of microscopes, puzzles, and items that they can touch and explore.

Many school children are taken to the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center and are introduced to things in nature.

Classes for kids as well as adults are offered.  Subjects are varied and range from learning about birds and bats to learning which wild plants are edible. This is only a small example of the many offerings.

Turtles at Houston Arboretum

Turtles at Houston Arboretum

The day we were there a printmaking class was being held.  Ferns and other natural items gleaned from the nature center were being utilized. Usually, the collection of any plants (with exceptions such as this) is prohibited.

The same rules apply to collecting and removing insects and animals.

Dogs are welcomed if kept on leashes and we saw quite a few of them on the trails.  Most people are quiet and respectful of others in this natural setting.  It is a place to relax, unwind and wash away the stresses of the day.

There are some signs along the way of identifying individual plants.  Some of them include braille where there is a guide rope in the 1/3rd mile long Palmetto Multi-Sensory Trail designed for the visually impaired.

Trails are natural as well as those constructed as wooden walkways.  Since the area is so flat, it is handicap accessible.

It is much easier to traverse these trails as compared to those at the Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary located further out on Memorial Drive.  Disabled people would not have quite as easy a time as the terrain at that sanctuary is more rugged in places.

The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is free to the public.  A donation box is located inside the building. Clean restrooms are available.

I have read that free insect repellent is given to those who request it. It is a good idea to use bug spray particularly after a rain event in Houston.  Mosquitoes thrive in our warm, humid environment! My husband and I visited the arboretum and nature center in April.  It was relatively cool outside, and we did not experience biting mosquitoes.

Loblolly Pine at Houston Arboretum (Used to be used for masts of sailing ships according to a nearby sign.)

Loblolly Pine at Houston Arboretum These trees were used for masts of sailing ships according to a nearby sign.

I would plan to visit the Arboretum during the cooler times of the year unless using the inside facilities which are air-conditioned.

We truly enjoyed the natural setting and look forward to the changes which will be taking place.

The location of the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center can be found here: 4501 Woodway Drive, Houston, Texas 77024.

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