Wednesday, October 8, 2008

In the news...


Driven magazine - Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Remember a few years ago when Overton Park was threatened with an interstate cutting through the middle of it? From the mid-fifties through the eighties, a group of people called the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP) stopped it from happening, and they’re back again this year - newly incorporated - to protest as the Memphis Zoo begins development on new exhibits that will keep 17 acres of Overton Park behind a fence, accessible only to Zoo visitors.

The Memphis Zoo cleared four acres of forest in February, to the dismay of Naomi Van Tol, Stacey Greenberg, and Amy Stewart-Banbury, the founders of the new CPOP. The Chickasaw Bluffs Trail and Teton Trek developments will likely include the bulldozing of sections of the Old Forest, so named because of the ancient nature of the park. This Old Forest is thousands of years old and has never been farmed or developed. It’s home to hundreds of native plant species and animals, and is the center of this very heated debate. The CPOP wants the land fenced off by the Zoo to be returned to the public for free use as part of Overton Park, and the group is also working towards legal protection of the land for future generations.

“There are about 125 acres left, outside the Zoo's fence, and none of it is legally protected. This problem could be fixed with a conservation easement - a la Shelby Farms - or a Tennessee State Natural Area designation," Van Tol said. "Either way, we need to persuade the Memphis City Council that the Old Forest deserves legal protection."

Van Tol told us the 500-member strong group leads nature hikes through the Old Forest twice a month, which may explain the large number of supporters the CPOP has been able to gather in such a short period of time.

"Our nature hikes have introduced hundreds of people to the Old Forest trails," Van Tol said. "When people actually visit this forest, they realize how amazing and unique it is, and they gain a deeper understanding of why it needs to be protected for our grandchildren. The Old Forest is one of the last surviving remnants of our natural heritage. It's an incredible old growth ecosystem, right here in the center of town, and anyone can visit for free."

At the request of CPOP, Park Services is conducting a survey to document all the plant species of the Old Forest. CPOP hopes this survey will show what is being destroyed by the development of the parkland. Van Tol said no one from the Zoo has publicly supported the efforts of CPOP, but that she still hopes that Zoo leaders can be won over.

“We are certain that everyone who works at the Zoo understands why it's necessary to preserve old growth habitat, so we're hopeful that we can find common ground on that,” Van Tol said.

Visit for more information, or call Naomi Van Tol at 901-278-2396 or e-mail