News Categories: Parks & Trails

14 Nov
By: HCP4 0

Exploring Mercer’s West Side Arboretum

Taking the path less traveled at Mercer Botanic Gardens leads to amazing sites! Escape the crowds and head to Mercer’s West Side Arboretum for views of native plants, wildlife, and natural scenery. Continue reading to learn about what you’ll find on Mercer’s West Side.

Hickory Bog

Located just across the street from the East Side Gardens, Mercer’s Hickory Bog features a 280-foot bridge and learning platform overlooking a thriving wetland ecosystem.

Reptiles, small mammals, birds, and amphibians of all varieties populate the area, making this adventurous trail perfect for birders, nature enthusiasts, scientists, and anyone who wants close-up views of nature.

Contrary to its name, Mercer’s Hickory Bog is technically a swamp because of its ability to support woody vegetation and trees. The name Hickory Bog caught on early in Mercer’s history due to the area’s location within a water hickory forest (Carya aquatica).

Cypress Swamp

Home to dozens of varieties of aquatic wildlife and birds, Mercer’s Cypress Swamp is named after the distinctive bald cypress trees (Taxodium distichum) that inhabit the area.

These long-lived deciduous trees can grow up to 120 feet tall with a trunk measuring 4 to 6 feet in diameter and woody projections known as “knees” that grow up to 4 feet tall and project out of the water. In the fall, the tree’s needle-like leaves turn an attractive bronze color before dropping.

Botanists are still unable to determine which cypress trees will produce knees or why. Many believe the knees anchor trees in wet areas and provide oxygen to the tree’s roots for survival in swampy conditions.

Swamp Ecosystem

Far from drab and murky, these locations feature a variety of flowering plants attractive to moths and other pollinators. As understory plants, most produce white blooms to help them stand out in shady areas.

The shore milkweed (Asclepias perennis), a water-loving Monarch butterfly host plant with creamy pink-white flowers, blooms on the edges of the swamps. Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a large shrub with sparkly-white balls of flowers, is a butterfly and pollinator magnet. In the wetter areas, lizard tail (Saururus cernuus) is a vigorous water plant with fragrant, drooping, white flower clusters.

Swamps also feature a variety of trees and shrubs, such as the bald cypress, sweet gum, red maple, wax myrtle, and buttonwood, which are frequently found in cypress swamps.

These plants and trees support wildlife such as white-tailed deer, raccoons, pileated woodpeckers, egrets, herons, alligators, frogs, turtles, and snakes. Be sure to look for their tracks!

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10 Sep
By: HCP4 0

New and Upcoming Precinct 4 Parks

From a boat launch to picnic tables and new playgrounds, Harris County Precinct 4 continues to enhance recreational amenities and expand access for area residents. Two new parks, Edgewater Park and Champion Forest Park, add nearly 100 acres of green space to Precinct 4’s vast parks system and provide connectivity to the Spring Creek and Cypress Creek greenways.

Edgewater Park

The recent acquisition of 90 acres of land at the intersection of Loop 494 and Hamblen Road provides an ideal spot for a park facility, boat launch, and Spring Creek Greenway trailhead.

“There are currently no public boat ramps in that area along the San Jacinto River,” says Dennis Johnston, Precinct 4 parks director. “Edgewater Park will provide residents access to a brand new, doublewide concrete boat launch, making the area a premier spot for canoeing, kayaking, and boating.”

Phase I of the project, which is slated to begin mid-2019, adds a boat launch and includes construction of a concrete parking lot, entry roads, and trail access to the Spring Creek Greenway. At 17 linear miles, the Spring Creek Greenway trail currently stretches from Highway59 at the San Jacinto River Bridge all the way to Interstate 45. The trail section at Edgewater Park will provide residents with access to the Bevil Jarrel Memorial Bridge, which was renovated by the Texas Department of Transportation.

After crossing the bridge, pedestrians and bicyclists can hop onto the greenway on the south side of the San Jacinto River. In addition to a boat launch and trail connection to the Bevil Jerrel Memorial Bridge, Phase I also includes construction of concrete picnic tables, restrooms, park lighting, and a fish-cleaning station. Phase II of the project includes the development of a trail system that will highlight interesting natural features of the ecosystem, including a cypress pond, with interpretative stops and signage along the trail. “The park will be fully staffed and maintained by Precinct 4 and patrolled by constable park deputies. Edgewater Park will be an important anchor park for the Spring Creek Greenway and a day-use park that residents of all ages can enjoy,” Johnston says.

Champion Forest Park

Slated to open in the fourth quarter of 2018, Champion Forest Park is a seven-acre property, located north of Cypresswood Drive at Cutten Road. The park features four youth soccer fields, six concrete picnic tables, a restroom facility, small playground, walking trail, and plenty of parking.

“This is a true success in partnerships,” Johnston notes. As part of its Floodplain Preservation Program, the Harris County Flood Control District purchased the property, giving it to Precinct 4 for park development and maintenance. Precinct 4 partnered with the Cy Champ Public Utility District (PUD) to add sewer and water connectivity, enabling the installation of a restroom facility—an amenity for visitors to Champion Forest Park and Cy Champ PUD’s nearby walking trail. Precinct 4 is also working with the Spring Klein Soccer Association. “In exchange for the use of the soccer fields at Meyer Park for practice and warm-up on tournament days, the association will maintain the soccer fields at Champion Forest Park,” Johnston says.

Precinct 4 plans to add a trail connection from Champion Forest Park to the Cypress Creek Greenway, giving residents trail access to Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve and Matzke Park.

The floodplain forest of Edgewater Park is a varied habitat with beautiful Texas red yucca shrubs, bluejack oaks, and old cypress trees. Both Edgewater Park and Champion Forest Park serve as natural detention areas during times of flooding. “During flood events, the ground acts as a sponge, soaking up floodwaters and filtering pollutants,” Johnston says. “With nearly 4,000 acres of green space, Precinct 4 provides beautiful recreational amenities for area residents and actively works to reduce the risk of flooding.”

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16 May
By: HCP4 0

Feeding the Hungry

It was a labor of love for a group of volunteers at Mercer Botanic Gardens. Volunteers spent the morning harvesting hundreds of pounds of winter greens to donate to the Houston Food Bank.

“This is a great example of how plants can be both ornamental and nutritional,” said Mercer Greenhouse Manager Jacob Martin. “We planted the kale and Swiss chard during the cooler months to add a little color to our seasonal flower beds. Rather than letting the greens go to waste, we decided to donate them.”

After contacting the Houston Food Bank, Martin learned fresh food was in high demand for the food bank and arranged for a delivery truck to pick up the veggies hours after being harvested.

In all, volunteers harvested 536 pounds of Swiss chard and 456 pounds of kale. The greens will be used during the Houston Food Bank’s nutrition education classes to teach visitors how to turn fresh produce into meals.

We’re proud of our staff and volunteers for coming up with innovative ways to serve our community in multiple ways,” says Commissioner R. Jack Cagle.

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01 May
By: HCP4 0

Historic Trees Come to Precinct 4

They may be small now, but the five oaks planted along the Spring Creek Greenway come from legendary stock.

Treaty Oak, Borden Oak, Runaway Scrape Oak, Cabinet Oak, and Century Oak are known as some of the longest-lived trees in Texas, most extending back hundreds of years.

The Treaty Oak, a live oak tree in Austin, is one of the oldest at more than 500 years old. Mature even before European settlement, the tree is the last surviving member of the Council Oaks, a grove of 14 trees that served as a sacred meeting place for Tonkawa and Comanche tribes. Despite being poisoned with herbicide in 1989 by a vandal, the tree survived.

The Borden Oak is another impressive tree, first surviving the Great Galveston Storm of 1900 and then the recovery process. During the recovery phase, residents built up the island by 5 feet, burying a large portion of the tree. While the salty soil killed most other trees, the Borden Oak survived after the owner built a dike around the tree to protect it.

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