KATY (Covering Katy) – The 32-acre park behind Cinco Ranch High School officially opened on a rainy Sunday afternoon with a ribbon cutting at the park’s new pavilion. The park is adjacent to the Grand Parkway, so hundreds of thousands of motorists have watched the construction project with anticipation for the past year.
The facility has been named Willow Fork Park and is accessible through the easternmost driveway of Cinco Ranch High School off Cinco Ranch Boulevard.
“We have trails, a pavilion, a 4.5-acre lake, which is actually a two level lake,” said Dick Ward, the president of the Willow Fork Drainage District Board of Directors, which constructed and operates the park. “There is a brick wall at the north end where there is a higher lake on the other side of that,” Ward added.
There is also a playground for young children near the entrance of the enormous park.
“We started a vision for this back in 2010 and it’s amazing to see it come to fruition,” said Willow Fork Drainage District board member April Renberg.
“We envisioned it as a large community park for the people in the area who could come with their families,” Renberg told Covering Katy. “You can do everything from play Frisbee golf, picnic and fly a kite. You can run, jog, bike, and you can have a pick-up game of kickball,” Renberg added.
It is a massive park that has a restroom. Given how large the park is there will be another restroom built on the other side of the park at some point in the future, according to Renberg.
The spring flooding slowed the grand opening, and the Willow Fork Drainage District is still waiting for CenterPoint Energy to install electricity to make the bathrooms and security cameras fully functional. Although, electricity is not needed for everything.
TBG Partners, the landscape architectural group that designed the park, hopes to have the electricity installed in the next few days, according to Susan Cita of TBG Partners.
“We’ve got solar lighting around the park,” said Matt Klein of TBG Partners.
Solar lighting is not the only environmentally friendly feature of Willow Fork Park.
“We’ve got over 50 percent native and naturalized plant species to reduce irrigation use,” Klein said. “We are still working with the adjacent Municipal Utility District on getting reclaimed water to serve the lake and all the irrigation system,” he added.
“There’s been a big push in Cinco to use reused water, and we’re just trying to be a good steward of water use,” Klein said.
There is educational signage all around the park so children and adults can learn about the animals and birds that will call the facility home. “We’ve tried to concentrate on all the different wildlife communities that we could possibly incorporate into here,” Klein said.
The park also has a different feel depending where you are in the massive facility.
“We’ve tried to create several different habitat areas. We’ve got a little bit of piney woods. We’ve got a little bit of Katy Prairie area,” Klein said.
There will eventually be catch and release fishing. The lake will not be artificially stocked; the operators of the facility will let that happen naturally with birds doing the work.
“They will bring in the eggs. It won’t be too long. It’ll be slow to start, but in the next year to two years you’ll start to see fish out here, starting small and getting bigger,” Klein said. “We’ve shaped the lake bottom for fish as they naturally stock over time. We’ve got different depths in there,” he added.
Students from the Katy Independent School District will also utilize the park for science and athletics. The facility was designed to host cross-country meets.
The property is owned by the school district and is operated by the drainage district as part of a 50-year lease. Superintendent Lance Hindt and school board president Rebecca Fox took part in the ribbon cutting.
Following the ribbon cutting Ward was surprised to learn that the park’s pavilion is being named after him. A plaque was unveiled with Ward’s name on it. Ward is a long time member of the WFDD Board of Directors.
The park will be open seven days per week during the daylight hours.