From Nottingham Country’s August 2017 Newsletter
Did you know that when the weather is good that as many as 4,200 people visit Rick Rice Park each month? That’s more than 100 a day — a pretty impressive number.
If you aren’t familiar with the park, we encourage you to go see it. It is located behind CrossPoint Community Church on Westgreen. You can access it via the church’s parking lot or by riding or hiking the Mason Creek trail that connects with it. The park was years in the making, and had its grand opening in June of 2009.
The park is an absolutely gorgeous 7-acre green space that features a central lake with a fountain that is surrounded by a walking trail. There is educational signage, inspirational artwork, a Veterans Memorial Plaza that honors all five branches of the United States military, and a scenic overlook that dedicated to Can Care, a non-profit cancer support network.
The story behind how the park came to be is pretty exceptional too. The park is the brainchild of the Interstate Municipal Utility District, which is a commercial MUD that represents the area from I-10 to Kingsland and from Westgreen to Mason. The MUD is governed by a very small board of incredibly dedicated folks who have put in countless hours over many years to bring the park to fruition. (As an aside, board members are essentially volunteers; they are paid a stipend every time they meet, but it is a paltry sum.)
“It truly is a labor of love,” said Interstate MUD Board President Barry Kaplan. “We are often asked why we would build a park at all. The answer is how often do you get a chance to do something extraordinary? People often don’t understand what a park can do for a community.”
Indeed, a park offers many benefits to the surrounding neighborhoods. It offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It gets people outdoors, thereby bringing neighbors and strangers together. It also makes the community a more desirable place to live, which increases home values.
Kaplan loves to go to the park and ask visitors about their experiences and see if they have suggestions for improvement. One of the park designers, Tara Klein of Four & One Landscape Architecture, does the same, and one day spoke to a woman who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. She said she felt God had sent her there, as she took great comfort from the supportive quotes in the Can Care overlook.
In order for a park to continue to impact its neighbors in positive ways, it has to be managed correctly in terms of both maintenance and security. The MUD takes both jobs very seriously. It has hired a top of the line firm, Terry’s Landscape & Design, to handle park maintenance. The walkways are pressure washed every month; plants are replaced on a regular schedule; flags are replaced every quarter; and graffiti is removed within 24 hours of the offense.
In terms of security, the park is patrolled regularly by off-duty HPD officers who routinely return wallets and keys to park patrons. Some folks are so grateful that they return with a plate of cookies.
The MUD also earns high marks for its willingness to work with other agencies. The Interstate MUD has financed the majority of the park, but some projects have been jointly funded in cooperation with our MUD, which is the Mason Creek MUD, and Steve Radack, commissioner of Harris County Precinct 3. It should also be noted that the Interstate MUD has a great relationship with CrossPoint Community Church.
It is truly heartening to see industry leaders who work so tirelessly on a project that benefits our community in so many ways. “We really are just a group of normal guys; we’re not special,” Kaplan says. “We’ve made mistakes, and we’ve learned a lot. This park is very special to us, and for some of us it will be our legacy.”
Check Out Francesca’s Garden
Even regular park visitors may not be aware of Francesca’s Garden, which is tucked in just behind the Mann Eye Institute. Its 1.5 acres feature lush landscaping, a tiny hill (perfect for toddlers to roll on), and a small pavilion that could be used for events such as weddings and concerts. One day, the MUD plans to build out an amenity pond adjacent to the garden.
The garden is available to the public on a first come, first served basis. No reservations are required.
Cool Park Facts
- The Texas Water Foundation gave the park the 2015 Blue Legacy Award for its water conservation efforts. A centrally controlled irrigation system saved 2.81 million gallons of water in 2015 vs. the prior year.
- The LED lights on the bridge can change color. For example, they were blue for Taylor High School’s Homecoming weekend.
- The park uses organic fertilizer and pesticide.
- The park was named for Houston native Rick Rice, who spent decades as a park advocate, particularly in west Houston.
- The alligator was not removed by park staff. It is believed he found a new home after a flooding event.