Doreen Stoller is President of the Hermann Park Conservancy. This is an essay she wrote as part of our series Why I Love Living Here, a weekly feature where Texans share why they love living in Houston. If you want to submit your story, send a column to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each morning a group of gentlemen who have been friends for decades greet me as I arrive to my office at Hermann Park Conservancy. Safely sitting one to a bench under the live oaks, they maintain their connections with each other at a time when many of us are isolated from friends and family we love.
During the day, I see families picnicking by the Jones Reflection Pool, or neighbors checking out what is blooming in the McGovern Centennial Gardens this week. Sometimes I give an impromptu overview of the Japanese Garden to a visitor discovering it for the first time – noting the best spots to see turtles sunning themselves on the rocks, or the giant koi submarining through the pond. I stop and chat with our gardeners who keep the Park sparkling even in the heat of summer, and laugh with one of our dedicated volunteers who has painstakingly cleared all the nutsedge out of the rose beds and proclaims, “he is not going to let the weeds win.” And I realize Hermann Park has facilitated a COVID community – where people escape from the stress to find joy in beauty, relax in nature. and feel connected with others even if they are at a safe distance.
Despite the Park being open to the public, we cannot deny that things have changed. The playgrounds remain closed and there are no families gathering at the interactive fountains in the Molly Ann Smith Plaza. We have had to re-organize and re-evaluate how to bring our programming, community engagement efforts, and major events to the people who care about and support our work in the Park. Now in its 17th year, our Run in the Park is going virtual – which for the first time has allowed my family spread across the U.S. to participate with the many regular runners using the Park’s gracious trails.
Hermann Park Conservancy’s master plan was designed to create a space where all people would be welcomed, and where they could connect with nature and with one another. While many plans get abandoned, remarkably we implemented our master plan over 20 years. As we develop the plan for the next 20 years, we seek to ensure the Park will continue its most vital role – to be here for all of us, and to bring us together as a community when needed. Things have changed, but that will never change.
In a time when many businesses and gathering spots have been indefinitely closed with no timeline of re-opening, it is clear how community spaces like Hermann Park are vital to the city, and to our mental and physical health. I love many things about Houston. But I love Hermann Park in particular because it allows us to experience the best things about our city as a place where all are welcomed, and we can be together no matter what – or because of what – is happening in the world around us.
Hermann Park is here and we are open for Houston.