Houston Parks and Recreation Department

Keith-Wiess Park

Address:

Phone Numbers:

- H.P.A.R.D. Permits Office:
- H.P.A.R.D. Information:
Houston Service Helpline:
12300 Aldine-Westfield Road
Houston, TX†77093

832.394.8805
832.395.7000
311 or 713.837.0311

North Houston is home to a beautiful, 499.46-acre park that has become a key to flood control for the Hall’s Bayou watershed. Keith-Wiess Park, nestled within pine forests along Aldine-Westfield Road, has a history that includes the philanthropy of one of the area’s most influential oil and timber families, a land grant from the Republic of Texas, a family-run dairy, Prohibition era bootleggers, pre-Columbian hunters, and creative flood control engineering.

Early Days at Keith-Wiess Park

Archaeological surveys along Hallís Bayou have uncovered evidence of what appears to be a bison kill dating from the Late Ceramic Period, which stretched from 800 AD to 1750 AD. It is likely that local Native Americans regularly hunted game in East Texas pine forests, including this one.

Thomas S. Lubbock attained a first class land grant in 1838, apparently on the basis of his having settled the property by 1835. It changed hands several times after that, and was home to Barry’s Dairy Farm by 1915. Several varieties of orchards were planted on the farm.  By 1918, the farm implements were sold and the dairy closed. Bootleggers used the dairy structures until they accidentally burned the place down.

A Great Park Facility, Great Philanthropy

In December 1979, James and Margaret Elkins deeded nearly 500 acres to the City of Houston to establish Keith-Wiess Park. The name memorializes Mrs. Elkins’s parents, Harry Carothers Wiess, long-time president of Humble Oil and Refining Company and heir to a family fortune based on retail interests and the Beaumont timber industry, and Olga Keith Wiess, a timber heiress whose decades-long career as a philanthropist resulted in grants to Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine, M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute, the Methodist Hospital, University of Texas Medical Branch, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Museum of Fine Arts-Houston, Houston Ballet, and Houston Symphony Orchestra. Her philanthropic habits continued through her daughters, and Houstonians have Margaret Elkins to thank for Keith-Wiess Park.

Under the city’s development plan, 170 acres were developed for recreation. Baseball and soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts, and picnic shelters were built there.  The rest was set aside for passive use. The deed spelled out the desire of the Elkinses for the park to be maintained as a natural open space, so two-thirds of Keith-Wiess Park was left in a natural state.

Flood Control Efforts at Keith-Wiess Park

As a result of the disastrous flooding brought about by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, the Harris County Flood Control District sought ways to diminish the danger along Hallís Bayou from similar catastrophes. There was no feasible alternative to using part of KeithĖWiess Park for that purpose, but the partnership that developed between HCFCD and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Aldine Independent School District, and the Aldine Community Improvement District, resulted in a plan that still meets the requirements of the deed.

While using 111 acres for the construction of detention ponds that will store storm water and release it slowly into the bayou after a flood event, most of 140 acres of old growth forest have been preserved. The ponds themselves were sculpted and landscaped to appear like natural elements of the landscape, and hike and bike trails and other park elements have been built around them to facilitate passive use of the ponds in the park.

The flood danger for the watershed has been greatly reduced, new areas of Keith-Wiess Park will be opened to easy hiking, and new pond ecosystems will develop around fresh native landscaping.