When Houston City Council Member Larry Green surveys Wild Heather Park, an almost featureless 12-acre tract of grass adorned with only the most basic attractions—picnic tables, a concrete basketball court, a chain-link backstop for baseball—he can only shake his head. “As you can see, it needs a serious facelift,” Green said. “This park hasn’t had any love for a while—there are no real amenities here.”

Fortunately, Wild Heather Park is about to get some of that long-overdue love. On Friday morning the City of Houston broke ground on a $644,000 renovation of the park, which was built in 1977 in the Wild Heather subdivision of Five Corners. Scheduled to open in about a year, the newly reimagined park will feature a half-mile-long jogging trail, a pavilion for family gatherings, exercise equipment for adults, and a splash pad and playground for children. “This project has been long-awaited—a lot of time and work have been put into this,” said Ray Washington, president of super neighborhood 39 and a resident of the Wild Heather subdivision. “What you see today is what the community decided on.”

The park redesign has been in the works for over a year, with the Parks and Recreation Department holding three public meetings to solicit suggestions from the community. “We brought the community together with the Parks Department and the architects, and we asked them what they wanted,” said Council Member Green. “This is their park—they’re going to be the stewards of it, they’re going to be the ones who use it, so it was important that we got community input.”

One of the community’s top concerns was safety, according to landscape architect Lauren Griffith. The renovation plan calls for placing lamp posts along the walking trail for greater nighttime visibility, and adding a gate to the parking lot to restrict after-hours visits. Wooden bollards—short vertical poles— will be inserted along the perimeter of the park to prevent vehicles from driving onto the grass. But perhaps the most important safety feature, Griffith said, will be the larger crowds drawn by the park’s new amenities: “Typically we find that once a park is more active, security improves.”

One of the driving forces behind the park redesign was the Wild Heather Civic Club, led by President Danye Roland. Roland said that he and his neighbors were tired of having to drive to the better-equipped Townwood Park off Buffalo Speedway. “The idea is to have a park people can walk to, instead of having to drive. It’s a place kids can play out of the streets. Seniors can come here and walk. Townwood Park is a long way from us.”  

Unfortunately, walking to Wild Heather Park often requires crossing White Heather Drive, which presents its own challenges. “This street is a freeway most days,” Roland said. “It’s smooth and it’s wide, so there’s racing, and things of that nature—you can see the tire marks all over the street.” In response to community concerns, Council Member Green promised that the city will install new speed bumps on White Heather by the time the park reopens next year.

Roland said that a refurbished park will benefit the whole Five Corners community, not just the Wild Heather subdivision. “Everyone here is going to take advantage of the resources available in the park, from the jogging trails to the splash pad to the pavilion. We’re just grateful to have it here.”

Of course, not every community request could be accommodated. “People would like to have the whole park domed and air-conditioned,” Roland joked. “Unfortunately, that’s not possible financially.”