By Christina Autry

New plans to redevelop Spring Branch District’s Haden Park have resulted in its receiving the Natural Areas Planning Award presented by the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC). The organization presents annual awards to parks which apply for various categories of achievement. Haden Park is being recognized for the master plan that the Spring Branch District and SWA Group have collaborated on alongside the community.

“The award program was established to recognize best practices in parks and natural areas in our region,” explains Andrea Tantillo, award program coordinator. “We look at how proposed projects improve water quality, improve quality of life, and conserve or create habitats,” she says. “Winning designs become models for inspiring future projects.”

“Haden Park’s plans address quality of life for the community, and improving water quality with Low Impact Development (LID) features including permeable pavement, bio-swales, and rain gardens allowing storm water runoff to filter and soak into the ground,” noted Tantillo.

Awards from 2019’s applicants will be officially presented to 18 recipients at a public ceremony at 9AM on February 14th, at 3555 Timmons Lane.

“Some residents have great memories of Haden Park and playing in its ponds in the 60’s,” says James Vick, the landscape architecture consultant for Haden Park the master plan. Since then, the park, which sits in the heart of the Spring Branch neighborhood, has become underused.

SWA Group has been a consultant to the Spring Branch District since 2013 when the it began developing the District’s Comprehensive Plan, followed by the H-GAC’s Livable Center Study in 2017. “This involved analyzing the components of the area including transportation, housing, hydrology, and parks, and looking for opportunities for positioning the District in the future, and proposing specific projects,” says Vick.

One of these community-bolstering projects was Haden Park. “There are a lot of families moving into Spring Branch. People are wanting to walk their dogs, jog, ride their bikes, and have a place to gather to enjoy a community vibe,” says Vick. Although the 12-acre park is largely a tract of vacant land with trees, the amount of greenspace has huge potential.

To tackle the project, a 12-person steering committee was formed, which included the Houston Parks and Recreation Dept, Super Neighborhoods, a representative from the city council member’s office, community members, and local business owners. The committee conducted a survey in the community to help determine what preferences residents had regarding development plans.

While about 82% of respondents said they were familiar with Haden Park, about 87% said that they do not actually use the park, citing safety, lack of things to do, and lack of park beauty as the top roadblocks. However, about 92% of respondents said that they would make use of the park if it were improved.

With this green light from the community, the steering committee began creating a “three parks in one” plan to best suit the needs of the neighborhood. The third of the park facing Hazelhurst will be a Family Park, featuring playgrounds, play features and a splashpad. The middle third of the park will be the Nature Park, containing Haden Pond, a forest trail, and a zone dedicated to outdoor nature education. “We want children and schools in the area to be able to use and enjoy this area and its environment education features,” says Vick. The third facing Long Point will include an event lawn, a large and small dog park, a tennis court, among other exciting features.

Vick believes that part of the rationale behind the park winning the H-GAC Planning Award was the level of involvement of the community throughout the process, as well as the detailed 3D visual plans that were created. “At each point there was a focus on quality of life issues, defining that, articulating that, and translating that into actual projects on the ground,” he says.

“We want to preserve as much green as we can, rather than putting in unnecessary pavement,” explains Vick. “We recognize and appreciate the existing natural habitat.” With planning of Haden Park complete, those working behind the scenes are now taking next steps to turn plans into reality; adding value, and family-friendly fun to a once overlooked piece of land.