Bayou City: Beautifying Houston’s Bayous

Bayou City. We are all well aware of our city’s long stretches of bayous and creeks that vein through our neighborhoods, stemming out from the Gulf. And when you think of Houston’s many bayous, a pleasant place to spend your leisure time might not be the first thing that comes to mind. With such a wonderful opportunity to be close to nature and be near the water without crossing the Beltway, why isn’t our city doing more to leverage this resource?

Well, now, they are.

The city had a great idea: Make the bayous and their neighboring parks and rest areas a place people want to visit. Want to bike, want to kayak, want to run, want to relax. And with creeks and bayous all throughout the city, there are plenty to go around.

The Plan

The Bayou Greenways 2020 plan is an initiative that will connect all of the numerous parks and trails along Buffalo, White Oak, and Brays Bayou into one continuous hike and bike trail, and park system. This $220 million project will be done by the year 2020, and will be paid for by a bond referendum, donations and private funding. The Houston Parks Board anticipates that there will be  $90 million each year in projected city-wide annual benefits, including:

  • $50 million in physical and mental health benefits (more people having fun in healthy ways!)
  • $10 million in environmental health benefits (more people on their bikes, better water quality, and reduction in flood and runoff water)
  • $30 million in economic health benefits (higher property values, and company talent relocation/retention)

Read “Benefits Analysis: Bayou Greenways – A Key to a Healthy Houston” by John Crompton for more fun stats on what these bayous will do for our city.


Once completed, the project will provide miles and miles of new trails where bikers and pedestrians can exercise along the water without having to worry about traffic. There are already many sections of trails along the bayous, but Bayou Greenways 2020 plans to connect the dots and give Houston an expanded network of interconnect, unbroken green space and trails spanning 150 miles in total.

The proposition to fund the project passed with 68% majority support in 2012, with Proposition B. Thanks to that vote, the project will get $100 million from public funds to build the trails and related facilities.

But that’s only half of the required funds to make this dream come true. To acquire the needed land and design said trails, the project is relying on the private sector for funding–and Houston support is really shining in response to the call for help.

So who is paying for it?

The cost may be high, but so is the support. According to an article by Inside Philanthropy, The largest private founder is Kinder Foundation, which gave an astounding $50 million towards the project in 2013. Kinder Foundation said that this marked the “largest donation in the history of Houston’s park system and one of the largest grants to a public greenspace in the United States.”

We also have Houston Endowment to thank; they  pitched in $7.5 million to the Houston Parks Board for the Bayou Greenways 2020 project.

When complete, the parks system will transform more than 3,000 acres of unused and underused land along the bayous, which is mostly not suitable for building construction due to flooding concerns. In addition to pathways, there will be amenities such as benches, trash cans, and landscaping. Now Houstonians will have a place to connect, meet, enjoy nature, and have an accessible path to enjoy the beautiful bayous and creeks our city has to offer.

Making History

While this may seem like a new and novel idea, the Bayou Greenways 2020 plan is actually over a hundred years old! Architect and urban planner Arthur Comey laid out a master plan for a park system connecting the bayous in 1912. According to Comey, ““The backbone of a park system for Houston will naturally be its bayou or creek valleys, which readily lend themselves to parks and cannot so advantageously be used for any other purpose.”

We couldn’t agree more!


Original plans from 1912:


Source content and photos courtesy of Houston Parks Board.