Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Dude, why do you hate the Zoo so much? The Zoo rocks!

We don't hate the Zoo. In fact, we are all members and frequent the Zoo with our families. We are unhappy about the fact that the Memphis Zoo clearcut four acres of Overton Park's old growth forest in February, when the Zoo began construction on a new exhibit called Teton Trek.

2. But haven’t those plans been in place for over 20 years?

Not really. The last Overton Park master plan was indeed drawn up in 1988, supposedly with public input, but many aspects of that plan have changed in the past 20 years. For example: the Zoo added the China exhibit after securing two pandas, and a planned outdoor amphitheater was nixed after the Shell started being rehabbed.

Our requests for a copy of the Zoo’s master plan have repeatedly been met with the drawing you see below. We have been explicitly told by the CEO/president of the Memphis Zoo, Charles Brady, that there is no written counterpart to this drawing. This drawing does not tell us very much. It certainly doesn't say anything about cutting down four acres of forest.

3. Isn’t the Zoo going to plant more trees than it cut down? Doesn’t that make it all okay?


Planting non-native trees and shrubs as landscaping for a Zoo exhibit is no replacement for the beauty and magnificence of a 10,000 year old forest.

4. Last time I looked, Teton Trek was progressing right along. Why don’t you just accept that what's done is done?

The Memphis Zoo still has 17 acres of old growth forest slated for development behind its fence.

5. You mean the Chickasaw Bluffs boardwalk? What’s wrong with that?

The Memphis Zoo has no written plan for the 17 acres inside its fence. There is currently no public oversight or legal protection for that public parkland. Without those two things, the Zoo cannot guarantee that a simple boardwalk won't morph into another clearcut to make way for another shiny new exhibit.

Those 17 acres of old growth forest are owned by the citizens of Memphis. That parkland is part of the historic Old Forest Overton Park. We believe it should be reunited with the rest of the park, so that the public can enjoy its beauty for free.

6. So you're saying that handicapped people will never get a chance to visit the Old Forest?

Overton Park currently has an extensive network of paved roads through the Old Forest that are closed to vehicle traffic. These trails are open to anyone who wants to visit.

It is our position that any trail enhancement or new trail development in the forest should be overseen by the City of Memphis Park Services division, with community input and support. The Old Forest should be managed as a whole.

7. But what about all of those underprivileged kids who visit the Zoo? How will they ever see the forest?

The Zoo currently offers guided hikes through the trails for a $125 fee. CPOP offers free hikes twice a month and per special request. Park Friends also offers free public activities, has developed a trail map, and is working with Park Services to fund and install informational kiosks to assist Old Forest visitors.

8. So what do you want?

CPOP wants to remove the fence around the 17 acres. (We also want to achieve long-term legal protection for the Old Forest, but we're starting with the fence.)

9. How do you propose to take down the fence?

We met with Memphis Zoo officials in early May and asked them real nicely to take down the fence. They asked us to give them a few months to think it over. While we await their reply, we are building community awareness of the issue. This community awareness will be invaluable should we need to pursue a political route to remove the fence.

10. Isn’t there some law that protects the forest? Isn’t it on the National Register of Historic Places or something?

All of Overton Park -- 342 acres, including the Memphis Zoo -- is listed on the National Register. Unfortunately this fact does not provide any legal protection for the forest.

We are not aware of any existing law that protects the forest, other than the minimal restrictions of the Memphis & Shelby County tree ordinance. The Memphis Zoo's clearcut was approved by the Office of Planning & Development (OPD) and its officials told us the Zoo was in compliance with the tree ordinance.

11. How can our community do a better job of protecting the forest?

A perpetual conservation easement could protect the Old Forest if the City Council passed a resolution to approve this. Likewise, the City Council could pass a resolution to return control of the 17 acres to Park Services and take down the fence.

Because the Old Forest is a unique old growth ecosystem, it may be possible to obtain a State Natural Area designation from the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC). This would require the approval of TDEC, the State Legislature, and the Memphis City Council. Such a designation would create a legal obligation to preserve and manage the Old Forest according to TDEC regulations.

12. How can I help CPOP?

We're so glad you asked! Please see the sidebar for a list of suggestions.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Stacey, for stating so clearly the objectives of CPOP and why it is important for Memphians to act now to stop any further encroachment on Overton Park's old forest.

The zoo's argument doesn't hold water. There are trails that are accessible to those with disabilities. I frequently see a gentleman in a wheelchair around the park road AND also on the trails. He does just fine.

When they say a low impact boardwalk, can we trust them after the demolition that occurred in Teton Trek area? There is no written plan, meaning zoo officials, mostly from the private sector, can do what they want with land set aside for public use. And if they want to offer a true nature experience, take down the fence which compromises the old forest's natural state. Let's see, fence in nature and charge people to see it. It is public land and no one should have to pay to see it.

Let's keep the old forest intact and accessible to all — the zoo's high entrance fee keeps many out.

Anonymous said...

Why not start a petition to get signatures as well so the Zoo can see the amount of people that agree that the fence should be removed?