It's late afternoon and the dog walkers are heading to a subdivision's neighborhood park. The park has a fountain, a stream, native shrubs and trees and a winding concrete path that meanders from a neighborhood street down to the stream, which is about 11 feet lower.
John Castillo, a computer tech, is walking Gracie, his Golden Retriever. They moved to the Mandolin Village subdivision near Cypress in Northwest Harris County a year ago.
"I thought, finally, a place to take my dog, have a nice run. I love it," said Castillo.
But the site was once just a big, open detention basin. Merrie Talley is the landscape architect who designed what is now called Mandolin Gardens Park. (You can watch a video of project here).
She said when she first took on the project, homes that bordered the 11 acre detention basin put up privacy fences so they wouldn't have to look at it.
"They affectionately called it the snake pit," says Talley. "It was just a truncated ditch, square bottom. It would stay wet."
Nearly 30 years ago when developers built the subdivision, Talley says county flood control regulations mandated the big detention basins to capture stormwater, to try to prevent flooding the Houston area is known for. But nobody said the basins had to be beautiful.
Transforming the Mandolin Village basin from eyesore to neighborhood asset cost $3 million dollars. It was paid through bonds sold by the subdivision's municipal utility district.
Talley designed a similar project on Houston's northeast side, Shady Lane Park near Halls Bayou. Other such projects include Art Storey Park and McClendon Park on Brays Bayou, Willow Waterhole and Keith-Wiess Park.
Talley says there are plenty more detention basins in Harris County that could be doing more than just holding water when it rains.
"Thousands of acres," says Talley.