News | Work begins on repairing, improving Seymour Lieberman Exer-Trail at Memorial Park
January 30, 2015
By Roberta MacInnis | Houston Chronicle
In 2030, runners and walkers may be exploring Memorial Park on a peaceful, picturesque path that winds 10 miles through savannah, prairie and forest.
But the thousands who currently use the Seymour Lieberman Exer-Trail each day must sometimes elbow their way through narrow stretches, taking care to not trip on exposed drainage pipes, roots and uneven ground along the 2.9-mile loop. After a storm, they often are stopped short by massive puddles.
As the Memorial Park Conservancy develops its sweeping master plan to revitalize the drought-devastated, 1,500-acre green space, it has decided the trail can't wait. Construction on a $1.25 million project to refurbish the wildly popular path is set to begin Monday.
Plans call for 4 inches of decomposed granite to be laid atop the existing trail, at a width of 16 feet. The width of the trail now ranges from 4 to 40 feet. Forty-five cross-trail drainage pipes - many of which are clogged - will be replaced so they are no longer hazardous and can serve their purpose.
While runners can expect detours, the work is being planned so disruptions are minimal, said Sarah Newbery of the Uptown Houston Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. Much of the work may be done at night, and materials and equipment will be staged in areas that don't interfere with users.
The exception will be the roughly mile-long stretch next to Memorial Drive, where the trail will have to be closed for safety reasons. Even then, Newbery said, the work may be scheduled so only half of that stretch is closed at a time
Construction is expected to be finished before summer.
"The hope is that the improved trail will last the four to six years until we're doing the work of the master plan," said Newbery, the Uptown zone's project director for Memorial Park.
The work is being funded by the reinvestment zone, which has teamed with the conservancy and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department for the master plan. The overall plan is being developed by the international landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz.
"We have been talking about Seymour Lieberman for a long time," said Joe Carey, president of the Houston Area Road Runners Association. "We are pleased the project is imminent."
The association, an umbrella advocacy group that represents about 30 area running clubs, had donated $25,000 for an engineering study in 2012, more than a year before design on the master plan started.
While runners and walkers comprise the park's largest user group, no one knows exactly how many people use the trail each day. The conservancy has placed a counter along the trail to collect that data.
The trail started as a dirt path in the grass created by runners circling the Memorial Park Golf Course in the 1960s. The city upgraded the loop and dedicated it in 1981 to Lieberman, a community leader and one of path's earliest users.
Over the years, improvements included lights, a stretching deck and small concrete mile markers embedded in the ground. The trail became the heart of Houston's running community: Even as the city continues to sprawl, people travel from its outer reaches to run at Memorial Park.
Bigger things are in store if the Houston City Council approves the final master plan, expected to be unveiled in March.
The entire loop around the golf course would be reconstructed and in some points shifted farther into the park to keep users away from cars traveling along Memorial Drive. It also would be lengthened to exactly 3 miles - a welcome change for exacting runners. The loop also would connect with a network of other trails.
A land bridge over Memorial Drive would enable people to run through areas in the southern portion of the park that currently are inaccessible. Runners training for a marathon could complete a 10-mile loop, Newbery said.
More significantly, the proposed plan would increase the park's existing 27 miles of trails to more than 50 miles, which includes some for horses and bikes.
Thomas Woltz says his firm's goal is to not only improve the experience of someone running in the park, but to also make them ambassadors for the space.
"We're giving runners access to tell the greater story of the park, both ecologically and culturally," he said.
Carey likes what he sees.
"My view of the plan is that it offers improvement in running opportunity and experience inside the park and is of a scale, ambition and quality that is world class," he said.