Created by city ordinance on March 15, 1916, the Department of Public Parks, as it was called at the time, began with two facilities, Sam Houston Park & Hermann Park. (Code of Ordinances, City of Houston, Chapter 32, Article 1, Section 32-2) Over 90 years later, the Houston Parks & Recreation Department, under the leadership of Joe Turner, Director, Houston Parks & Recreation Department, oversees 366 developed parks & more than 220 greenspaces totaling over 37,832 acres. Over 800 full-time employees work daily to fulfill the Departmentís mission statement:
"To enhance the quality of urban life by providing safe, well-maintained parks & offering affordable programs for the community."
The Houston Parks & Recreation Department (H.P.A.R.D.) is composed of five divisions which include: the Recreation & Wellness Division; the Greenspace Management Division; the Facilities Management & Development Division; the Management & Finance Division & the Communications Division. Each division is committed to providing quality services & programs & to being responsive to the Houston community we serve.
The department owns & operates 60 community centers across the city & the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, presenting a wide array of educational & recreational programs for all ages & abilities to enjoy & participate in. Programs for youth include the Mayor's After School Achievement Program (ASAP), H.P.A.R.D After School Enrichment Program, summer youth programs, & summer youth programs & nature tours. For adults & seniors H.P.A.R.D. offers a variety of leisure, sports & fitness activities.
Parks & esplanades are on a grounds-maintenance cycle to be mowed every 10 days during the growing season, which runs from March 1 through September 30. De-littering occurs in 3-day intervals in parks & every 7 days on esplanades. During the non-growing season, grounds maintenance crews shift mowing cycles to every 14-days in the fall, & once a month during the winter. The department also maintains a 72-hour response time for graffiti abatement & cares for the city's urban forest.
Since 1990, Urban Foresters have planted 27,730 trees through the 1% Set-Aside Tree Planting Program. Urban Foresters partnered with Trees for Houston, a non-profit tree advocacy organization, to initiate the Neighbor Woods Program to give Houstonians an opportunity to put down some roots in their neighborhoods.
H.P.A.R.D. owns 7 golf courses including the highly acclaimed Memorial Park Golf Course & 1 junior golf facility, the First Tee Junior Golf Facility at F. M. Law Park. The Department manages & maintains 2 gardens, the Japanese Garden & the Houston Garden Center, which is undergoing renovation in 2013 and 2014. The department operates 37 outdoor swimming pools, 1 indoor swimming pool for people with disabilities programs at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, 23 water spraygrounds, 3 staffed tennis centers (with an additional 78 un-staffed neighborhood tennis sites located across the city) & more than 128 miles of nature or hike & bike trails.
Houstonians with a love for skateboarding have a variety of sites to hone their skills. The Lee & Joe Jamail Skatepark is a state of the art in ground facility set on the bank of Buffalo Bayou in Eleanor Tinsley Park. In the shadow of downtown, it has 30,000 square feet of challenges for skaters of all levels of expertise. H.P.A.R.D. also operates 5 above ground skateparks located across the city. These include the Dylan Duncan Skatepark, Eastwood Skatepark, Watonga Skatepark, Joe & Theresa Padilla Skatepark, & Clinton Skatepark.
In May 2004, the Houston Parks & Recreation Department added dog parks to their facilities. Ervan Chew, 4502 Dunlavy, was the first neighborhood park in Houston to allow dogs to legally run free, off-leash, in a designated dog zone. Maxey Park, 601 Maxey Road, followed in September of 2004. This community park dedicated approximately 12 to 13 acres of parkland as a place for dogs. Levy Park, located at 3801 Eastside, became the third dog park in September of 2006. Since then, dog run areas have been built in West Webster Park, 1502 West Webster, which features a 5,000 square foot run added in 2009, T.C. Jester Park, 4201 West T.C. Jester Blvd, which has separate runs for big & small dogs, Tanglewood Park, 5801 Woodway Drive, where the dog park was opened in 2010, & Market Square, 301 Milam, which was renovated in 2010 to include the first dog run in the downtown area.
On October 15, 2008, the Houston Parks & Recreation Department became one of only seventy-nine agencies in the country to have received national accreditation from the Commission for Accreditation of Park & Recreation Agencies (CAPRA). This distinguished accomplishment was announced in Baltimore, MD, at the National Recreation & Park Association (NRPA) 2008 Congress & Exposition.
The process of accreditation is extensive & took several years to accomplish. After the initial application, the agency completed a detailed self-assessment report followed by a visit to the City of Houston by a team of experienced park & recreation professionals. Finally, a review was conducted by CAPRA & accreditation was formally conferred by the Commission on October 15, 2008.
National accreditation requires park & recreation agencies to respond to 156 standards representing elements of effective & efficient park & recreation operations. To become accredited, agencies must demonstrate their ability to meet 138 standards, 36 of which are designated as fundamental to quality operations & are required of all agencies.
Joe Turner, Director, Houston Parks & Recreation Department, accepted the National Accreditation Recognition Award for the department during the annual CAPRA Reception on October 15, 2008 in Baltimore, MD.
In October 2013, H.P.A.R.D. received reaccreditation during the National Recreation and Park Association Congress and Exposition 2013, which was hosted by Houston.