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Students engage in Parks Board bayou initiative

By Joey Capparella     2/7/13 6:00pm


A growing group of Rice students have become involved with the Houston Parks Board's Bayou Greenway Initiative thanks to the initiative's increased emphasis on campus outreach.

Community Organizer for the Houston Parks Board Dani Neuharth-Keusch said the Houston Parks Board was a nonprofit organization that functions as the implementation arm of the City of Houston Department of Parks and Recreation. According to Neuharth-Keusch, the initiative is aimed at creating a system of greenways to connect the various parks and trails in Houston's bayous.

"The bayous are a pretty big part of Houston's history and culture," Neuharth-Keusch said. "For 100 years, people have been talking about using the bayous as a way to connect the city. This initiative is the first move to make that happen." 

Neuharth-Keusch said the current goal of the initiative was to work with the Houston City Council to access funds granted for the project in last November's elections.

"There was a bond passed in November that appropriated $166 million of funding to this initiative," Neuharth-Keusch said. "However, we don't have that funding because the city council has to approve it. Our campaign is currently aiming to build on that momentum coming out of the election and build up community support to convince the city council to make this a priority."

Neuharth-Keusch said campus outreach is an important part of the campaign. Student initiatives are in place here at Rice and at the University of Houston in addition to citywide community outreach, Neuharth-Keusch said.

"Rice is an active part of the Houston community," Neuharth-Keusch said. "Students are passionate and dedicated volunteers, and it's a great resource to tap into."

Neuharth-Keusch said the campaign at Rice, made up of herself and eight student interns, had already accomplished a lot, including getting more than 450 petitions signed and recruiting 55 volunteers at their kickoff meeting.

Wiess College freshman Melanie Zook is working as a civic engagement intern for the campaign on campus. Zook said she was interested in working for the Bayou Greenways Initiative because of the opportunity for local political engagement.

"I know that it's a priority for the Houston community, but I feel like [city council approval] is such a convoluted process," Zook said. "Voters can vote, and it can be years until anything happens. It's important to get [the] city council to actually pay attention."

Zook and Neuharth-Keusch said the group's next step was a Feb. 19 trip to Austin to lobby at the state level for increased funding to cities for environmental projects like the Bayou Greenway Initiative.

"The group from Houston is a coalition of different environmental groups," Neuharth-Keusch said. "It's important that we get a good showing to make an impact."

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