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Each month leading up to The Woodlands 50th Anniversary celebration, content is created to honor the past, present and future of our community. During June, nature, parks and open space will be highlighted. 

By Laura Landsbaum

The Woodlands has been committed to maintaining open spaces since founder George Mitchell’s original vision brought this pioneering master planned community to life in 1974. With The Woodlands approaching its 50th anniversary (it’s this October) that commitment remains as strong as ever. More than 28 percent of the land in The Woodlands was devoted to green space for five decades now.

With the addition of the George Mitchell Nature Preserve, now an unprecedented 35 percent of The Woodlands is made up of open green space, Howard Hughes director of community development and planning Kelly Dietrich notes.

Which would surely make George Mitchell proud.

“The vision was to maintain the natural environment after development, which was different from many communities in Houston at the time,” Robert Heineman, a member of the original planning committee for The Woodlands says. “When you enter The Woodlands from Interstate 45, or other entrances, Mr. Mitchell wanted to see trees. Not building signs, driveways. And so we implemented that by having forest preserves along major roads. We have 50 foot forest preserve minimums along major thoroughfares.”

Smaller roads have 30 feet minimums along Panther Creek and Cochran’s Crossing.

The Woodlands Girl Riding Bike on Pathway

Another strategy for keeping the forest as the focus was driven by Georgie Mitchell’s vision of traveling down a thoroughfare in The Woodlands and seeing nothing but a natural, tree-filled environment. 

“The idea was to keep the major thoroughfares on the ridge line, but curve them gradually so that as you’re traveling down Woodlands Parkway, you’re not looking straight ahead at a pavement,” Heineman details. “You’ll constantly be seeing the natural environment changing as you wind through the forest.”

A third strategy centers around setback requirements.

Land parcels have coverage limitations on the percentage of development, and standards within commercial parcels, including two types of setbacks — a building setback and a paving setback.

“Rather than having a clear cut parking lot with no trees or vegetation, standards were developed for that. For example, for every 20 spaces or so in, a row of cars would need to have a landscape Island and every third row in a parking lot would need to have a landscaped median,” Heineman says. “So that way you get landscaping in the parking lot.”

“Those are some of the ideas that we can depend on in order to successfully get that vision of maintaining the natural environment.”

Finally, The Woodlands development team set clear development standards and rules — with committees within each village tasked with maintaining those standards.

“These have to go through the development standards committee to be reviewed,” Heineman says.  “That was the kind of legal mechanism to ensure that those standards were maintained over the life of the community.”

The Woodlands Prioritizes Open Spaces

Open spaces in The Woodlands comes in many forms — neighborhood parks (151 in total), golf courses and green spaces included. One of the largest green spaces is the George Mitchell Nature Preserve, a 1,900-acre wonderland connecting to an adjacent forest known as the Spring Creek Greenway. With miles of hiking and biking trails, the preserve fosters abundant native plants and wildlife.

The Woodlands, Texas Sunset Over Lake Woodlands

Kelly Dietrich believes that one of the most important functions of green open spaces is to allow the community to come together. Often informally. Naturally.

“We’re connecting the community with our pathways,” Dietrich says. “Many interactions happen on the pathway. Whether that’s connecting with a friend on a walk, or connecting back to nature. Really, the entire Woodlands is a park. And everything is connected.”

More than 220 miles of trails in The Woodlands that help forge that connection.

George Mitchell’s vision of curving roads and creating a magical environment where residents feel like they’re winding through a forest is very much alive today. Nearly 50 years in, The Woodlands is only getting greener.


Many thanks to The Woodlands 50th Anniversary Sponsors:

FOUNDING – Howard Hughes

PRODUCER – The Woodlands Township

LEGACY – Woodforest National Bank

HERITAGE – Waste Connections Inc.

GOLD – Entergy Texas, Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital

SILVER – SVN/JBeard Real Estate, The John Cooper School