Anne Whitlock, Michael Skelly, Beth White, Barry Ward
New Parks Director Steve Wright and wife Jodi Wright
Lisa Kasianowitz, Rachel Powers, Tom McCasland
Lee Ehmke, Andy Newman
Guy Hagstette, Shellye Arnold
Former Mayor Bill White, Ann Lents
Estella Espinosa, Debra Lathan, Abel Gonalez
Hosts Michael Skelly & Anne Whitlock
Newly-anointed Houston Parks and Recreation Department director Steve Wright has survived an unanticipated trial by water, having arrived on the job only a few months before Harvey struck. Lucky for Wright, however, and for Houston park lovers, the beloved green spaces under city rule suffered little.
“The storm damage for the most part in most of the parks was minimal. We didn’t really experience anything really that bad,” he said as he visited with guests at a getting-to-know-you fete at the intriguing Fire Station home of Michael Skelly, who serves on the Houston Parks Board, and Anne Whitlock, a member of Community Connect.
Houston Parks Board president and CEO Beth White and community leaders who are focused on the city’s green spaces gathered to welcome Wright to his new post, which follows his seven-year tenure with the YMCA of Houston as VP of business development and healthy living. Just having celebrated a year in her position, White recalled a similar gathering at Fire State #2 last August when she was welcomed to the greenspace fold.
Wright has been working with the parks board since July, collaborating on projects including Bayou Greenways 2020 and the Houston People & Parks Hurricane Relief Fund.
Under the Parks and Recreation umbrella, Wright is responsible for 376 parks spread across the Houston area, plus 61 community centers including the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, 38 swimming pools, 227 playgrounds, eight golf courses, five fitness centers, 201 tennis courts, 29 water spraygrounds, 165 miles of trails, four nature parks 87 soccer fields, volleyball courts, baseball and softball fields, practice backstops, skateparks, and more. The department’s budget for 2016 was well over $82 million.
In terms of real damage, Wright noted, “We had one of our community centers that had to be taken off line because it did experience some water damage. It’s a little bit longer term. But all that most experienced was a little bit of water damage.”
The worst of the flooding problem came at Lake Houston Wilderness Park in New Caney. Wright said that the lodges received three feet of water, and the department was reconsidering how to move forward on the repairs.
The greenspace contingent turning out to welcome Wright was impressive and included the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center’s Debbie Markey, SPARK School Park’s Kathleen Ownby, Trees for Houston’s Barry Ward, Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s Anne Olson, Houston Zoo’s Lee Ehmke, the Kinder Foundation’s Guy Hagstette, former Mayor Bill White, Memorial Park Conservancy‘s Shellye Arnold, Houston Parks Board’s Cullen Geiselman, Houston Parks Board chairman Tom Bacon, and the City of Houston’s Susan Christian.