Plan proposes changes and improvements to Memorial Park

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Countless improvements to the popular park are on the table (KTRK)

Architects revealed the final version of the Memorial Park Master Plan Tuesday, promising a restored and enhanced version of the park.

From a land bridge crossing over Memorial Drive to an observation tower over a new section of the park called The Savannah, new ideas are taking flight.

Perhaps no one knows Memorial Park better than a man who goes by the nickname, "Mr. Park." He has come to the park almost every day for the past forty years to run the trail and, these days, feed the birds.

"If I don't come here even in the worst weather," Bob Bunoza said, "I just won't have peace of mind."

Bunoza makes friends with everyone along the way - birds included. He has trained them to eat peanuts from his hands.

"They recognize me. I call them 'dog,'" Bunoza said, "And I say, 'Dog, come here.' They come running to me."

Bunoza used to be a runner himself.

"I say I left my joints at this park," he said.

He's seen the park in all kinds of conditions-from flooding to drought.

According to the Memorial Park Conservancy, the land likely featured native grass prairies, pockets of pine-oak savannahs and hardwood forests along the bayou in pre-settlement days. In 1917-1919, Camp Logan was established to train soldiers for World War I. In the mid-1900s, changes in land-management practices led to the forestation of the park. However, the expanded forest couldn't flourish in many areas of the park, and major drought caused trees to die in 2010.

Architect Thomas Woltz hopes to protect against future drought by planting native vegetation.

"To look to the most resilient natural ecologies for the long term future of the park is a really critical step in assuring the next hundred years of a healthy park," Woltz said.

Pine- hardwood savannahs and native grass prairies are planned for areas where the soil cannot sustain a forest. The master plan calls for a grove of pine trees to be planted in one section of the park to honor the soldiers who trained on this soil for World War I.

In addition, one rugby pitch, two volleyball courts, one soccer field, one baseball diamond, five softball diamonds and two croquet courts will be moved to the north side of the park; however, no field will be removed until its corresponding new field is ready.

Bunoza said he is up-to-date on the proposed changes to the park, but what draws him to Memorial Park every single day remains the same.

"People are so friendly here," Bunoza said, "It's just people that make this place so special."

Neighbors who live on the east side of the park are still concerned the new plan will make their streets busier.

"So they're planning to put tennis courts over here when they take the softball field out," James Simmons said, "Which means we're gonna have the noise of tennis all night, every day, on the weekends."

Simmons said he and his neighbors have written letters to city leadership but have not heard back. He said he will hold a meeting Thursday with neighbors to decide what their next course of action will be.

A committee within the Houston City Council will review the plan at the end of this month. Councilors will vote on the design plan in early April.
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