Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Big Meet Up

Disclaimer: I have paraphrased below based on my memory of the conversations that took place during our meeting. I didn't have a tape recorder or anything!

At 3:45pm last Friday I sat in my car in the Zoo parking lot wondering if I was going to puke. I was so nervous! Amy & Naomi soon arrived and we made our way in through the gates. Once inside the office we were taken to a second floor conference room. There was a HUGE conference table. We spent a good five minutes trying to configure ourselves while waiting for the big wigs to join us. (I tried to goad Naomi to sit at the head of the table, but she wouldn't go for it.)

A little after 4pm, Chuck Brady, Jim Jalenak, and Brian Carter burst into the room. Chuck (as he likes for me to call him) said Jim Strickland was running late and that we should go ahead and get started. "We're not here to debate," he said, "but to answer questions and give information."

I was the first to speak for CPOP. "Can you just give us an update on what your plans for the 17 acres are?" I asked.

Naomi had taken the time to make 11x17 color copies of the Zoo's master plan and our aerial map, so Chuck was able to point at the different facets and explain what was slated. Before telling us about the low impact trail planned for the 17 acres, he pointed out something on the map called "The Meadow." This, he explained, was to be an amphitheater with a multi-use building. "But now it will be the hippo site since the Shell is being rehabbed." Jim Jalenak also pointed out that Teton Trek would have happened a long time ago had they not gotten the opportunity to bring in the pandas.

Happy to see that they had indeed made a changes in the sacred 1988 document, I said, "Maybe it's time to reconsider the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit in light of our current understanding of environmental issues."

Chuck then went on to explain that the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit was really important to him. He said that by developing this area, the Zoo would allow 127,000 (or more) "inner-city" children to experience the Old Forest. These children, he explained, had no other way to access the forest.

Again I was happy to see that we might have some common ground. "Chuck, we really want as many people to experience the Old Forest as possible too. I'm just not sure that a fenced-in exhibit is the way to achieve this goal."

Amy chimed in with an excellent point: "What will you do about the safety issues? Like trees falling down and becoming a part of the forest floor...that's what happens in an old growth forest."

"Yeah, a huge oak fell near #6 on the Old Forest Trail a few weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon," I said. "No thunderstorm, no nothing."

"We'll design the exhibit with foresters from the U.S. Forest Service and the very best landscape architects that money can buy," he explained.

Us CPOPers are no dummies. Old Forest + Landscape Designers + Forest Service Reps = Disaster. Good-bye undergrowth. Good-bye natural inhabitants. Good-bye Old Forest.

"It's about ACCESSIBILITY," he stressed.

Amy was on fire. "The 17 acres of Old Forest slated for this exhibit cannot sustain 127,000 kids a year," she said. (Much less the 900,000 other Zoo visitors!) In essence, Chuck's plan for Chickasaw Bluffs cannot be realized without destroying the very thing he claims to want to preserve.

There were several times when Jim Jalenak, the Zoo's past board chair, looked like he got it. Like he was actually listening. That definitely helped with the constant drone from Chuck and Brian about the sacred 1988 master plan and how everything was set in stone after much debate in the community 20 years ago.

"I was 12 years old in 1988," Naomi pointed out. "A lot has changed since then."

Chuck did admit that 20 years ago, the roads that surround the Old Forest were open to traffic. And Rainbow Lake hadn't been refurbished. Clearly, he could see that a lot of things had changed. Maybe he could see that the Zoo didn't need to "protect" the 17 acres by turning it into a shadow of its former self. I mean, he even admitted that he likes to hike the trails!

"Let us draw up our schematics," he said. "I promise you'll like what you see. We aren't going to build that exhibit until about 10 years from now, anyway."

"Okay... but can't you draw your schematics without that fence? I mean, the fence has been up for 16 years and you don't plan to do your exhibit for another 10 years... how does that achieve your goal of accessibility? That's 26 years of NO ONE getting to see that part of the Old Forest," I said.

"And why not work with us to improve the nature trails in the ENTIRE forest? The forest that is large enough for everyone to enjoy? Why does 17 acres have to be isolated and landscaped??" I demanded.

"Minor trail work, kiosks or other signage, and a boardwalk like you describe you want for Chickasaw Bluffs could all go a long way in getting people into the Old Forest," Naomi pointed out.

"I mean have you driven down East Parkway on the weekends? There are hundreds of people using the pavilion, playground and picnic areas who never venture into the forest because they either don't realize it is there or they think it is unsafe," I said.

Jim Strickland, our most awesome City Councilman, stepped in with a suggestion. "Why not let them take some time to digest this? Then meet up again in a month or so."

"Great idea, Jim!" we all agreed, and left humming Kumbaya in our heads.

But here's the deal. Chuck thinks we are just three uppity women. "If I did everything every group wanted, the Zoo would be a mess," he told us. Chuck and the rest of the powers that be need to know that CPOP speaks for a larger community of Old Forest lovers.

We need you! Comment here, send emails to Councilman Jim Strickland and Zoo president Chuck Brady, join our membership list by emailing your contact info to Amy, put one of our stickers on your car, come to our meeting later this month, share your stories and experiences in the Old Forest with us... all of these things will help the Zoo know that when CPOP says "Down with Fence!" that they should listen.


bridgmanpottery said...

naomi, I can't open entourage on my computer, will you send me chuck's email, please?

Naomi Van Tol said...

Chuck Brady's email:

Jim Strickland's email:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like accessibility is the new freedom.

As in, "Why do you hate accessibility?"