Hit Hermann

In time for summer, the park's had a facelift.

If you've been to Hermann Park in the last few years, then you know that as mid-city oases go, it's never been all that, well, splendid. Yes, it offered green space and easy access to the Houston Zoo and Miller Outdoor Theatre, but amenities in the park itself were few. There was certainly little along the lines of the new Discovery Green downtown.

As of the grand reopening in April, that's all changed.

The latest renovations, started in 2007 in anticipation of the Hermann Park Conservancy's centennial celebration in 2014, include the brand-new Lake Plaza and the revamped Hermann Park Railroad. The Lake Plaza is a meeting place by McGovern Lake complete with public restrooms, a gift shop, a Little Bigs cafe, the Tiffany & Co. Foundation Bridge, a volunteer maintenance center, and the Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Greenway.

Abby Downing-Beaver

The Plaza also provides entrance to a paddleboat lagoon and the new train station, called Kinder Station in recognition of the children who ride the small red trains.

The railroad itself has been expanded to cover two miles and actually functions as more than a novelty tour of the park. With the addition of three new stops, the train can actually take its passengers to the Museum of Natural Science, the Medical Center on MacGregor and the nearby METRORail stop. The rail car seats have even been expanded for adult comfort.

Even so, the train ride is clearly meant to entertain with its sharp whistle and charmingly rickety movements. Young children under the age of five are the most frequent passengers, and they are rewarded for their patronage with small whistles.

The Japanese Garden has also been improved, reshaped in the image of more traditional Japanese gardens. The teahouse is now accented with a bamboo-fenced tea garden, lanterns and stone wash basins; stone paths have been installed; and the small, winding streams have been outfitted with wooden bridges.

A possibly unintended consequence of the Japanese Garden's transformation is the residence of a multitude of turtles in each small tributary and pond. They can be seen lying on top of each other on rocks jutting out from the water in an attempt to get the most sun. Squirrels are also frequent residents of the garden and will not only accept food, but will approach humans to beg for it.

With five years to go before the centenary, this new park isn't the final product. On the way are such improvements as a pedestrian underpass, a bridge over the bayou, the restoration of the park's Grand Gateway, and the continued reforestation of the park grounds.

Then again, this is Houston. Is more construction really much of a surprise?

What's Going On
Your guide to the summer's hottest recreation

May 14 — "Enchanting Taiwan"

Houston Public Library, Central Branch, 500 McKinney, 832-393-1313,

"Enchanting Taiwan" features a selection of 20 exquisite photos that show the superb natural beauty and rich culture of the island. There are images of majestic Jade Mountain, traditional festivals, serene Sun Moon Lake and indigenous customs, just to name a few. It will be on display through June 30.

May 17 — Houston Symphony's Maestro's Wine Dinner

Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 713-337-8526,

Jones Hall will be hosting a five-course gourmet dinner catered by Tony's and accompanied by Italian wine pairings personally selected by Maestro Hans Graf and John Rydman of Spec's Wine, Spirits and Finer Foods as part of a project of the Houston Symphony League. Starting at 6 p.m., it benefits the 2009 Ima Hogg Young Artist Competition and will also feature a silent wine auction. To donate a favorite red, white or rosé for the silent auction, call 713-337-8531.

May 30 — Texas Sawmill Festival

AV Bull Sallas Park, 21675 McClesky Rd., New Caney, 281-354-0051,

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., everyone is invited to go to New Caney for a trip through time at the "Old Sawmill Town" to experience East Montgomery County history. It will feature craft vendors, food concessions, historical displays, old-timey pictures, live music on the grandstand outdoors, carnival games, school choirs performing on the inside stage, a rock wall, a petting zoo, wagon rides and tournament competitions such as sack races, bucket relays and more. The festival also features the bluesy former American Idol contestant Sundance Head.

June 1-August 18 — Xploration Summer Camps

The Houston Museum of Natural Science, One Hermann Circle Dr., 713-639-4629,

No one wants to stare at a TV screen all summer. Enroll your child in Xploration Summer Camps at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and she will have the chance to Build It Big; Design & Destroy; become a Space Cadet; attend Jedi Academy and Master Spy Camp; get into Kitchen Chemistry; and see why T. Rex Roars. Each camp provides a rich learning experience in a fun environment, and there are dozens available for exploration.

June 12 — Summer Sampler of Dance

Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Dr., Hermann Park, 281-373-3386,

Starting at 8:30 p.m., visitors to Miller Outdoor Theatre can see a dance performance including jazz, tap, lyric and modern, all in one evening, by Houston Metropolitan Dance Company. Free admission.

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