Urban Forest Will Stay Put Under New Deal

Neighbors call it a "pocket wilderness," 21 acres of pristine native Texas forest surrounded by homes and busy streets on the city's northwest side, not far from the Historic Heights area. The West 11th Street Park will likely stay that way thanks to a unique deal between the Houston school district and the city.

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She's just across the street from her home in the Timbergrove neighborhood, but Lorraine Cherry might as well be deep in an East Texas forest, surrounded by soaring pine trees, birds and other wildlife. She's looking up at one of the hundreds of trees, trying to spot one of the 88 species of birds that live there. "We have built trails in this pocket wilderness so that you can walk 50 or 60 feet away from a city street, and all of a sudden your footsteps are muffled on pine needle-covered trails. You hear the sound of birds instead of the sound of cars and you're back in a forest that you may not have visited since you were a child," she says.

The Houston School District bought the land back in 1949, with plans to build a school there. That never happened, so HISD recently decided to sell the property. Because the forest has become such an important part of the community, the district has reached an agreement to sell it to the city, with the promise the land will remain a park. "This is just an extraordinary and almost unprecedented example of cooperation among all levels of city government to recognize something that is really worthwhile and do whatever it takes to make it happen," says Cherry.

Because of its responsibility to taxpayers to get market value for the land, HISD is unable to just give the park away. But school board member Harvin Moore says the deal does ensure it will remain the way it's been for the past five decades. "When we see an piece of property like this being enjoyed as a park, and as such a remarkable park, there are very few pieces of property anything like this, then we would like to see it remain as a park. It's just that it's not the school district's role to run parks, operate parks, or even to let their pieces of land be used indefinitely as parks. So I'm just delighted that we're able to work out the early stages of preserving this as a park and getting it sold," he says.

The city has pledged $4 million toward the $9.2 pricetag, but is counting on private sources of funding to make up the other $5 million before the end of next July. Houston Parks Board Executive Director Roksan Okan-Vick says the fund-raising effort is going well so far. "We are very optimistic about the process. We do not have all the funding in place yet but we have an aggressive campaign underway to raise the balance of the funding," she says.

For More Information:

Lorraine Cherry-West 11th Street Advisory Committee 713-868-1549

Houston Parks Board 713-942-8500

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