In the middle of sprawling North Houston suburbia, a brand new 105-acre park designed by landscape architecture students at Texas A&M, provides a public refuge where one can hike and bike through trails in acres of densely wooded wilderness or relax on a small beach by a lake frequented by ibis, egret, herons, ducks and geese.
Cypress Creek Park at Timber Lane, located on Cypress Creek just east of the bustling Hardy Toll Road, 22 miles north of downtown Houston, is part of a series of award-winning parks in the Timber Lane Utility District designed by graduate and undergraduate students in three studios taught by professor Jon Rodiek over a 1.5-year period beginning in the fall 2006 semester.
“We do projects like this so our students can become familiar with service learning activities while acquiring professional skills,” said Rodiek at the park’s Oct. 4, 2013 dedication staged in gazebo on a hill above one of the park’s lakes. “It's also a way they can advance people’s quality of life through park planning.”
With opportunities for hiking, fishing, skateboarding and dog walking, it’s the crown jewel in the district’s park system, said Lori Aylett, an attorney who helped the utility district acquire land for the project. The park’s amenities include a skate park, a dog park, two nature observation decks, a fishing pier, a lake and two large ponds all connected with a series of winding trails with concrete, crushed granite and natural surfaces.
“It gives us a chance to put down our cellphones, put down our iPads and reconnect with God’s creation, which is so important,” she said at the dedication ceremony.
Rodiek’s students also designed the utility district’s Sandpiper Park and Herman Little Park, for a total of 201 acres of preserved green space — 90 percent of which was designed by Texas A&M landscape architecture students, said Bud Gessel, the district’s director.
With the students’ designs, the district was able to secure $4.4 million in state and federal funding for park system, located in a 100-year floodplain along the northern bank of Cypress Creek.
The students’ designs for these parks have been recognized with numerous awards.
In 2012, Herman Little Park, near Cypress Creek Park on the west side of the Hardy Toll Road, won a Parks and Natural Areas Award from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, an association of governments in the Texas Gulf Coast region.
The park includes a wetland observation deck, a 5-acre fishing pond, a skateboard park, a jogging and hiking path, a soccer field, a pavilion and parking.
In 2009, the system’s hike and bike trails were recognized by H-GAC with its Best Parks and Natural Areas Project under $500,000 award.
In 2007, the students’ plans helped the utility district win the H-GAC’s Best Management Practices award.
Over the years, the utility district funded students’ efforts, which included trips to the area, for site inventories, soil testing, water quality analysis, plant identification and soil examination.
“We did all that in studio just like a real office,” said Rodiek. “We rented vans and drove down there and back countless times.”