Sunday, July 6, 2008

Rejection letter

On May 2, CPOP met with the leaders of the Memphis Zoo and asked them to reunite their fenced-off 17 acres with the rest of the Old Forest at Overton Park. They said they would discuss the matter with the Zoo's board of directors and give us an answer in two months.

Yesterday's mail brought the reply that we expected. You can click each image to enlarge, or just squint really hard.

Now that you've read that letter for yourself, I'd like to share a few thoughts.

You requested that we reduce the zoo campus by 17 acres and open the forest land for neighborhood use. We cannot agree to your request as it would disrupt zoo visitor experiences and cancel our proposed Chickasaw Bluffs trail.

Hey, you know what else disrupts the experience of Zoo visitors? Clearcuts.

As a frequent zoo visitor myself, I cannot imagine how my experience would be disrupted by taking down a fence that currently serves no positive purpose. We all know that the 17 acres in question is festooned in barbed wire and off limits to park visitors and zoo visitors alike.
There are 160 acres of forest land in Overton Park outside of the zoo which have only walk-in access. The zoo's 17 acres will be developed for broad community access.

I don't understand why "only walk-in access" is such a tragic prospect but, in truth, that unfenced forest land provides a lot more than walk-in access. It also has jog-in, bike-in, wheelchair-in, and skate-in access. Why, you're even allowed to walk your dog!

And it's all free to the public.

A sensitively designed and constructed boardwalk trail could be a nice addition to the free public amenities of Overton Park, but why should people pay good money to walk through a publicly owned forest? All of the boardwalk examples that the Zoo has cited -- Johnson Park in Collierville, Big Hill Pond State Park near Selmer, and the William B. Clark Conservation Area in Rossville -- are free for everyone to visit. That last example isn't even publicly owned, yet it's still free to the public.

The typical family of four has to spend $50 just to breach the Zoo's gate.

You can say "broad community access" all you like, Mr. Brady, but for the vast majority of our community, your bottom line translates that to "three hours each Tuesday afternoon if you can show a Tennessee ID."

You can keep on talking about your desire to expand community access to the beautiful old-growth forest of Overton Park, but do you think everyone is going to forget who took those 17 acres away from our community to begin with?

Or that we'll forget who clearcut the adjacent 4 acres of old-growth forest?

Furthermore, the trail's design will also comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, allowing people with disabilities to venture into the otherwise inaccessible terrain.

The free public portion of the Old Forest has at least two miles of paved interior roads, plus a 1.5-mile packed gravel jogging trail. These paths already comply with the ADA and allow people with physical disabilities to enjoy the Old Forest just like anyone else.

Check out the gorgeous bellflowers that are blooming along that accessible jogging trail right now...

Have I mentioned that anyone can experience this beauty for free?

Overton Park has a balance of neighborhood and broad community uses which are strategically included in the Overton Park Master Plan. The Chickasaw Bluffs trail is part of that plan.

Oh, Mr. Brady... now that the Overton Park Master Plan is publicly available as a searchable PDF [5MB Download], you're going to have to stop saying that your Chickasaw Bluffs trail was ever part of that plan.
Because of recently increased community interest in the project, the Memphis Zoo has begun preliminary design on the Chickasaw Bluffs trail.

At our meeting two months ago, the Memphis Zoo told CPOP that the Chickasaw Bluffs trail wouldn't be built for ten years. Now it's suddenly leapt ahead to the preliminary design phase! The Zoo's internal planning process must be remarkably flexible.

But is that planning process flexible enough to allow us lowly citizens to have any decision-making influence over this proposed use of public parkland? Or will the leaders of the Memphis Zoo just keep playing their same old tune, as their out-of-town consultants decide what's best for our community and our park?


Stacey Greenberg said...

Sorry, Chuck, you can say "no" all you want, but the fence is coming down!

Anonymous said...

What did you expect - that things would change? This is Memphis where corruption, crime, sloth,greed and indifference pay off. Well at least for the most part. Let's show the environmental criminals at the zoo that they have a battle on their hands! Prepare yourself for a long one!

bridgmanpottery said...

geez. you know, I somehow let my zoo membership lapse. Now I'm even LESS inclined to renew. I'm still undecided, but I really can't support an organization that shows such flagrant disrespect to its members' desires and aspirations. It's really a shame.

Anonymous said...

I think the wrong "animals" are behind the bars at the Memphis Zoo.

I say let the real fight begin.

Anonymous said...

you guys have been way to polite dealing with the issue! My hat off to you for your patience! Now it is time to hit them where it hurts! Knock the head off the monster! Find the Achilles heel! Resistance, boycott, write letters!
Hey how about this - make some noise!

Anonymous said...

those of you who have memberships coming up for renewal may want to not just allow to let them LAPSE, but call the zoo membership department up and tell them nicely that you can no longer with good conscience support an institution that so flagrantly violates the public trust and destroys old forest...
Think about it - the zoo lives from memberships and ticket receipts(about 25 to 30%) and city subsidies (about 15%) but even more... it gets large corporate and individual gifts. The deteriorating economy will already cause corporations and individuals to carefully weigh a DONATION. But any ongoing debate or crisis is likely to effect the zoo's bottom-line. The zoo is not the darling any more and I would bet Fred Smith would not make a ten million dollar gift to the zoo at this time!
Although most of America's corporations reward CEO failure with continued employment and bonuses (go figure), chances are that somebody in this city has enough sense to push the dead weight over board. Especially if the zoo CEO continues to stir up public relations trouble and discontent!
If anybody has exact financial statements sheets for 2007 for income and expenses it would be great.

Naomi Van Tol said...

The Commercial Appeal printed a story in April that included info about the 2007 budget.

"The Memphis Zoo spent $12.3 million on operations during fiscal year 2007 and revenue was $13 million. Nearly half the budget spent on Personnel. Gate revenue accounted for about 30 percent of total earnings. The following is a snapshot of the zoo's fiscal 2007 budget, which ended June 24.

Gate: $4 million
Retail: $2 million
Membership/donations: $1.9 million
Special/private events: $1.6 million
City agreement: $1.2 million
Total revenue: $13 million

Payroll: $5.8 million
Retail: $1.3 million
Animal operations: $1.3 million
Utilities: $1 million
Special/private events: $650,000
Total expenses: $12.3 million

Many of the capital improvements are a joint public-private partnership between the City of Memphis and the Memphis Zoological Society.

Since 1989, the City of Memphis contributed $36.5 million or 34 percent of the capital improvement costs, including a $5 million commitment to the Zambezi River Hippo Camp exhibit. The private zoological society raised $70.5 million or 66 percent."

Anonymous said...

How about sending a CPOP information packet to all those who have made significant donations to the Memphis Zoo already? It is public record, and the Zoo has entire walls, benches, plaques, statuary, etc. that have the names of these philanthropists posted for all perpetuity...I'm sure some of these kind folks would think twice about any further generosity to Brady Inc. if they knew how hypocritical the Zoo’s position on conservation has become.

Anonymous said...

BINGO! The Achilles heel - public support! At present we are seen as nothing more then annoying gnats. If we all buzz loud enough and sting where it hurts, the horse may throw Napoleon from his saddle!

Anonymous said...

I personally like the plans by the zoo. I do not feel safe going through the current jogging trail into the woods at Overton Park alone and especially not with my daughter. You do not know where criminals are lurking around in Overton Park, but within the zoo confines, I feel safe. It will be great to have a safe place for us to look at the trees together while we stroll along. I am glad that the zoo has moved the plans forward to where it will be opening sooner than later. I love going to the zoo and I am glad that they are designing this trail and the exhibit with the wolves and grizzlies as well. It is going to be so cool to see animals in a more natural setting. I think if people have so much of a problem with the zoo they shouldn't go. Having a zoo here makes it so we can see animals we never would be able to in our lives otherwise and people are just getting so worked up over this issue over a few trees. If you are so sad about the trees then go buy some at a nursery and plant some in your yard. I personally love the zoo and am proud and happy to live in a town with such an awesome zoo.

Anonymous said...

hey Marlena,
true Memphis is one of the unsafest, most decrepid cities in the country.(let me back that up: scores in the top in property crime, murder, infant mortality, poverty, lack of education etc) I don't feel safe going most places either. I'm a college student and jog in the park and I feel that anytime I could get attacked. And you are right, the Memphis Zoo is one of the best in the country, certainly better then the miserable LA Zoo. Problem is - it is now in the hands of people who have no respect for a Supreme Court ruling, who deceive us, and have may have alterior (greed) motives. Question to you is this: what if they keep making poor decisions like they have, and built too much and can't afford the upkeep? Will it be another pyramid? You guys pay property taxes out the nose here. Will you be ready to pay $25 at the gate? They already raised it to 13 from ten to cover the panda thing. Yeah, FREE day, but that won't address the who pays the bill in the end.
Hey Marlena, I saw a documentary on the history of Memphis with a the story about the yellow fever in the 1880 or so depopulating Memphis, people died by the thousands or just ran off, the city went bancrupt, then came back to life with the foresight of Overton and Kessler, buying the old man's land of the rare undisturbed forest... I was so ashamed of my ignorance! And then learning of a small group of people who won a ruling by the US Supreme Court in 1971... before that I bet nobody thought anybody in Memphis had any spine or intelligence. I'm not a native Memphian, but learning all that made me proud of this God-aweful, crime-ridden city... it is not so bad after all. It is just what WE make of it! And we can't allow a tyrant to run it into the ground just like we can't allow the criminals to make us feel safe only in the confines of fenced in false security much like RHODES COLLEGE. "Hey if whitey get's away with cutting down a whole forest -damn, HOME DEPOT here I come". Let me admit something - I knew nothing about trees of the South before I came. But I learned some are extinct now, and the only way you find their wood is in old boat-houses and barns. I didn't know that the state of Tennessee has more species of reptiles and amphibians then the whole continent of Europe. Some 'skeered people' hate them, but sorry, God created them too.
So they keep all cutting down trees left and right, aren't they all the same? "Hey you Stringer people, get me one of them Southern pines or whatever they are called - what you mean -they don't make them anymore?" So those who claim to protect the natural world and work at preserving and all the other stuff are cutting down indiscriminately...
And so do many politicians and ranchers in Brazil, who keep cutting down 'in the name of progress'. We think they are horrible people but guess what, we are all measured by the same yard-stick...
I may be a fool like you Marlena and hope they finish what they started because I like bears. It is in the seal of California. But I know somebody is OFF and did wrong, and I want somebody held accountable and the nonsense stopped. Can we agree on that?

Dakoda Davis (from California)

Anonymous said...

Sorry Marlena, ignorance doesn't cut it (well, in the case of the zoo and the old forest, it did, unfortunately.) Planting a few trees in a yard is your advice? Gee, how naive you are. Do you not realize that the forested area that was cut was hundreds of years old and habitat to hundreds of birds and animals? If you want to see animals in their natural habitat, then go west and take your daughter and see something that is not artificial. The zoo does play an important role in the community, but should not be destroying other treasures. Ignorance such as yours is usually not damaging; when it occurs with public officials, that is when harm can come about. And you say that you feel unsafe in the woods? Did you know you at least two animals have escaped their enclosures at the zoo in the past few years. One made it out of the front entrance. Imagine if it had been a lion or tiger? If you want safety, maybe you should stay home with your daughter and watch the Discovery Channel. But I bet you if Memphians got to vote, and quite possibly a referendum could come about, we will see what Memphians want. Good day.

Anonymous said...

hey guys,
as an zoo insider monitoring this, I suggest you check the city records. It was about 1999 or 2000 when a rare Russian cobra escaped from the reptile house and was discovered in the landscaping BY A KID. As tiny as they are they are tottally lethal. Nobody really made a big deal of it but the city oked that the reptile house was redone, with all the venomous creatures being on one side and all the non-venomous on the other. OMG, they would can me for leaking this out. Please get rid of the monster Chuck Brady. I thought Charles Wilson was an ass but now we all wished he came back. He really like plants!

Anonymous said...

I love how when some people feel free to use my name that for some reason they couldn't type their own names...

First, I am not a fool, Dakoda from California. That Supreme Court ruling was designed to prevent highways from passing through park areas, not to prevent positive development within a park area. With your reasoning that the zoo has no respect for that ruling, well then, the city must not have any respect for that ruling either. It would appear that we shouldn't have the golf course there, the Memphis College of Art, the Brooks Museum, heck take down the swing sets too and plant trees everywhere.

Look, this land that the zoo has set for development is land that no one has been walking around in for some time. Reading through some of the old posts on this site, I read how one writer's son came upon a poisonous snake during a walk through the park. You can be assured that when that walking bridge is put up that copperheads won't be coming right up to people on a stroll because since it is private zoo land, the zoo will have the liability and they are certainly not going to want to take risks getting sued.
Crime-wise, thugs certainly are not going to go through the effort of paying at the gate or even coming through on the free day to lounge around on that bridge or spray paint graffiti on it like so many other things that have been spray painted on, especially here lately in Memphis. Instead it would be a spot that is only accessible by going through the zoo gates first. Let the city put up their own free access bridge through another section of the forest and then let me know how safe you feel at that spot.
Oh and good day to you too Mr. anonymous poster who feels that I am ignorant. I do not feel that propping my daughter up in front of the television to watch the Discovery Channel is something I want to do when we can just go to the zoo to see animals in real life. I also, unlike you, I suppose, cannot afford simply to travel out west to see animals in natural environments, as neither can many other Tennessee residents who have this zoo available and affordable to be able see animals when we desire.
If you want to find something to get riled up and passionate about, get upset about the state of public education in this city. Get upset about preteen mothers. Get upset about the level of crime, get upset about the high paid salaries of our city officials who have those high salaries while the city becomes more and more blighted.
I believe that instead of getting upset about something that will definitely be a positive for this city that perhaps your efforts may be better spent finding proactive ways to make our city and community a better as a whole.

Naomi Van Tol said...

Marlena, thanks for sharing your perspective. I'm curious about why you have such antipathy toward the forest.

Do you feel that Overton Park as a whole is a dangerous place, or is it just the forested area that you find frightening?

If it's the latter, I encourage you to come along one of our free nature hikes to see why we think this forest deserves to be preserved instead of being paved over, acre by acre.

I visit the Zoo often with my daughter, but I also take her walking in the forest. I think we all deserve to have a nice Zoo and a nice forest.

Until the Zoo has redeveloped all of its crumbling and overly cramped exhibits (such as the Aquarium and the Herpetarium and the giraffe & zebra exhibits, etc...) I do not see any justification for expanding into an old-growth forest that can never be replaced.

jccvi said...

What a cool thread to highlight different viewpoints: passionate zoo supporters, sabre-rattling anonynimi, Rhodesian outside perspectives, conflicted zoo members, disgruntled zookeepers, and informative blog hosts.

Anonymous said...

It is apparent that you love wildlife, but PLEASE don't cheat yourself and daughter of the experience of seeing wildlife unfettered. I suggest you visit a national park or wildlife refuge--perhaps the real Grand Tetons. Trust me, it would be worth the expense and your children will thank you for it. And believe it or not, the admission to the real Grand Tetons is actually much cheaper than the Memphis Zoo.

As for the "natural setting" you value, what is more natural than the real thing (i.e. The Old Forest)? Anyone that has seen a Brown bear fishing for salmon, an elephant foraging in its natural environment, or felt the excitement of a barred owl or woodpecker in an old growth forerst knows that the "mildlife displays" at the zoo are a perversion of a functional ecosystem.

And personal safety issues while visiting nature? To quote Edward Abbey: "The essence of true wilderness is big mammals that can eat you." ...And thus began the story of how the West was won and 4-1/2 acres of forest destroyed.

But it's not too late.

Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to come to grips of how they would do the planning for their EXCITING NEW low-impact forest ATTRACTION:
A boardwalk, high enough so snakes can't strike or bite? How wide would such a boardwalk have to be? I suspect wide and sturdy enough for at least two double-wide arses pushing strollers to pass each other (without getting wheels entangled, causing a fight and the whole thing to come down)! Can they push strollers on those wooden things? And how about railings, since we can't expect ALL Memphians can read warning sign about conduct, or keep their children under control (remember, Memphis is highest in infant mortality in the country). Would they have netting so kids can't get through? What if they climb over and fall? What if they go 'down in there' and pick up a snake? Should the zoo as a precaution go and collect and 'euthanize' all potentially lethal animals? Maybe spray the whole thing for spiders and mosquitos? What if a stick falls on somebody, or a bird takes a crap and somebody gets sick from it? What if somebody calls Corey B. Trotz and sues then? Maybe they need to CUT SOME MORE TREES, so that doesn't happen! Ask Brady, he knows how to do that!
With all the constant noise and screaming, how much real wilderness can anybody expect to see? Maybe the disappointed ones will throw things into the exhibits, well-aimed at the heads of rare sunning creatures that don't move. You know the way they all throw cigarettes at the Orangs and the pennies at the gators. Let's see if it is real or alive! Actually, the wild critters will mostly scatter throughout the day and wait till the zoo closes and sanity returns.
Then I guess the crews will gather the garbage and set traps and spray everything again, maybe pick up the odd dead birds.
No, I think that whole endeavor is doomed from the beginning. Maybe turn it over to the Sierra Club for limited, guided tours. I can already imagine the reviews of the noisy zoo crowds as they exit that lengthy boardwalk trail:"That was boring - nothin in there!" The whole boardwalk thing is 'too elite' for the socio-economic reality of Memphis.
There are lots of other ways how the zoo could bring up 'visitor satisfaction experience' IN THE OLD ZOO, on little space, for pennies on this new high dollar disaster... but I won't share. Brady might steal the idea and copy it miserably!


Kirk said...

Disregard the Supreme Court and build I 40 through overton park.