Drought damage at Memorial Park to get worse

HOUSTON - Rain drops may fall in Houston's Memorial Park, but the massive tree damage caused by last year's drought only continues to get worse. 

Tree experts said it could take up to five years for sick trees in the park to die.

The obvious signs of the damage are everywhere. Dead trees have been replaced by tree stumps. Areas that were once like forests are now almost completely clear. Parts of Memorial Park's famous running path look like a war zone due to the downed trees.

"It's incredible how many trees we've lost," said one runner. "All the shade is gone."

There's no shade and now there are new sounds throughout the park thanks to the drought. 

"It's just emptiness," said park visitor Viola Ortiz. "Before, you couldn't hear the cars because of the trees."

For the first time anyone in Houston can remember, you can now clearly see Memorial Park from Interstate 10. That means you can clearly hear the traffic inside the park. 

"It's a unique event in terms of its severity," said Barry Ward, executive director of Trees for Houston. "If you look out to I-10, that's the result. It's just a massive, massive die off."

Trees for Houston is a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting, and now replanting, trees across the city. Ward said the damage goes much further than the dead trees you can see and the areas already cleared. Ward said even trees that look like they made it really haven't. Don't let the green leaves fool you.

"It's too late for many of these trees," Ward said. "You're not going to save them. There are so many trees that are sick you can't even get to them all."

It's the same story from park to park across the Houston area.

"This will be an ongoing event for three, four or five years. That's if the drought ends," Ward said. "It's going to get worse before it gets better. The replanting needs to begin now."

Hope comes with replanting and the new opportunities to repair drainage problems at Memorial Park and help engineer irrigation for the future. However, recovery is at ground level. The towering scenery in Memorial Park will take decades to come back. ?

There's a huge fundraising effort and plan to replant and make improvements to Memorial Park. The plan includes the city of Houston Parks and Recreation Department, the Memorial Park Conservancy and Trees for Houston.

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