Saturday, December 25, 2010

Letters to the Editor 12/25

Letters to the Editor
State protection has its benefits
Saturday, December 25, 2010 - The Commercial Appeal

I was serving as superintendent of Shelby Farms Park when the forest along the Wolf River was designated as the Lucius Burch State Natural Area in 1988.

The effect of that designation was to provide Shelby County with support from the state of Tennessee. It also attracted citizen support that we had never experienced before the designation.

We experienced no downside at all.

The Old Forest of Overton Park deserves no less than this level of protection, so that it may be forever green.

Thomas T. Hill
Shelby Farms Park superintendent emeritus

Letters to the Editor
Saturday, December 25, 2010 - The Commercial Appeal
Old Forest is urban treasure

The Old Forest in Overton Park is a very important asset to our city. There in the middle of town, with high-rises, universities and homes, sits nature at her finest, exactly as Earth made it. Flowers, birds, animals, all have a home there, but, they will welcome us if we do not harm it. There is no need to pack the car, use gas to drive miles to "get one with nature." It is right around the corner.

Years ago when society tried to destroy Overton Park and the zoo, those ladies knew what they were doing! Now it is time to protect the Old Forest for future generations.

Beverly Dixon

Friday, December 17, 2010

Letters to the Editor 12/17

Letters to the Editor
Friday, December 17, 2010 - The Commercial Appeal
State can best protect Old Forest

I am vice president of the International Society of Arboriculture, Southern Chapter. I am also on the board of directors of the West Tennessee Urban Forestry Group. I am sure I speak for these groups as a whole when I say that the Old Forest in Overton Park would benefit the most as a state natural area that would remain undisturbed other than for education and enjoyment by the citizens of Shelby County and by visitors from other areas of the world. Our Old Forest is rare and should be respected as such.

Wesley K. Hopper

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Letters to the Editor 12/16

Letters to the Editor
Thursday, December 16, 2010 - The Commercial Appeal
Park suffers under city's care

Opponents of the proposed Old Forest State Natural Area would likely prefer that Google Maps hurry up and replace the current satellite image of Overton Park.

Click the image to view on Google Maps

Zoom in a bit and you can easily count more than 200 vehicles parked on Overton Park's classic greensward, the park's only expanse of open grass where non-golfers are allowed. This overflow of zoo parking spreads across half the field and over the roots of dozens of periphery trees, while the zoo's Galloway Avenue parking lot sits two-thirds empty. The greensward is not fallow land, either; you can spot a dozen picnic blankets in the photo, with plenty of people milling about the open space.

What does this have to do with the park's 10,000-year-old Old Forest Arboretum? The same group of people are "taking care" of both recreational amenities with the same managerial mindset. I agree that overlaying a state natural area designation on part of the park would clutter up an occasional workday for a few civil servants and zoo executives, but so what? Why should we trust the Old Forest's current stewards to treat it as a "city natural area," given their current neglect?

I have no problem with "people in Nashville ... telling us how to manage the park" (Dec. 12 article, "Parties differ on how best to preserve Old Forest"), as long as their management doesn't include more bulldozers and parking cones.

Gary Bridgman

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Letters to the Editor 12/15

Letters to the Editor
Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - The Commercial Appeal
City's record doesn't inspire trust

Let me get this straight. The city wants a conservation easement in Overton Park with oversight by the city (Dec. 12 article) -- the same city that put a maintenance facility in the Old Forest, the same city that almost allowed Interstate 40 through the Old Forest, and the same city that will allow the zoo to cut down old-growth forest to install "an environmentally friendly nature trail" to "really connect children with nature."

Talk about the fox in the hen house. I hope those who genuinely care about protecting and preserving the park and the Old Forest will rally behind the idea of a designated Old Forest State Natural Area.

Carol Ann Mallory

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Letters to the Editor 12/14

Letters to the Editor
Tuesday, December 14, 2010 - The Commercial Appeal
State natural area is no-brainer

If all parties involved claim to have the best interests of Overton Park at heart, why not designate it a state natural area? Why not have the most restrictive protection possible for such a unique and limited treasure?

In your Dec. 12 article "To Protect/Parties differ on how best to preserve Old Forest," the zoo and city seem to be saying that having a state natural area would interfere with the city being able to maintain the park/forest and that the state would not be able to accomplish things like ridding the forest of nonnative elements such as honeysuckle. Does the city currently perform such activities in the Old Forest?

To say the state doesn't have the manpower to maintain our forest as a state natural area is rather vague, so I'd like to know what resources the city currently provides for park/forest maintenance, so we can compare what the city is doing to what the state would do if it were run by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

I have visited state natural areas in Tennessee and other states, and I haven't seen any that strike me as "lacking in maintenance" or being overrun with any other problems.

The bottom line is this: Give the forest the best (and most) protection possible. It is limited in size -- and has gotten smaller -- and is already firmly established as being used for walking, running, hiking and biking, and has been saved from the interstate once, so what is the problem? It is important, people love it, and their (our) love for it brought it before the U.S. Supreme Court, which shows its relevance as a historic and civic treasure, as well as a natural one.

Amie Vanderford

Letters to the Editor
Tuesday, December 14, 2010 - The Commercial Appeal
A key to stopping urban decay

Man, in his infinite wisdom, has, by some miscarriage of reason, placed himself above the natural world. Somehow we feel compelled to make our mark on every square inch of the planet, to manipulate God's creation to suit our own design. As an architect, I spent 20 years of my life contributing to this process, until my disgust for our shortsightedness finally overcame my ego.

Luckily for us Midtowners, a tiny patch of the primeval forest that once covered the entire southeastern U.S. was saved from the tidal wave of developmental devastation that continues to roll eastward through Shelby County. If we have any hope of stemming the tide of destruction (which can also be traced via its socioeconomic wake) the fulcrum of the brake lever must be Overton Park.

I urge support of an immediate moratorium on any further encroachment upon, and legislation mandating the most restrictive preservation of, what little remains of the old-growth portions of the park. Maybe by working together to save a few trees for our children, we could expand the initiative and redevelop the vast swaths of urban decay left us by our parents.

Aaron James

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Today's Commercial Appeal has a front-page story about our efforts to protect the Old Forest of Overton Park. Mayor AC Wharton's staff previously told us that he was still considering whether to support the Old Forest State Natural Area this year. It looks like he's decided to oppose it.

Our City CAO, George Little, suggests that a conservation easement would be "less burdensome" because it would not place "too many restrictions on park operations."

In the past three years alone, the City's routine "park operations" at Overton Park have included activities such as: clearcutting four acres of old growth forest, using the Greensward as a private parking lot, and destroying large swaths of forest understory on several different occasions. And the City still plans to build a stormwater detention structure in the Greensward.

The two draft conservation easements that we have received from the City did not offer any meaningful protection for the Old Forest. The City told us that both of those documents were written by the Memphis Zoo's CAO, Jim Jalenak, with assistance from Park Friends Inc.

CPOP was not asked to join the Memphis Zoo and PFI in drafting the Overton Park conservation easement. Our public comments on the first draft have been ignored completely for the past eight months. On Thursday, the City told us that CPOP's comments will only be considered after the third draft is written.

Mr. Little also says: "We don't think people in Nashville, no matter how well intentioned, should be telling us how to manage the park." But the City just told us that the Nashville-based Land Trust for Tennessee is in charge of writing the third draft of the Overton Park conservation easement. Clearly, it's okay for some people in Nashville to tell us how to manage our park.

The Land Trust for Tennessee is a worthy and well-respected land management group, but so is the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation. Why is the private group being portrayed as trustworthy while the public group is not?

We have said, clearly and repeatedly, that we support the Memphis Zoo's proposal to "follow the Shelby Farms model" of park protection. At Shelby Farms, the forest along the Wolf River became the Lucius Burch State Natural Area in 1988, and the entire park was recently protected by a private conservation easement. These two methods of legal protection are complementary, not mutually exclusive.

Here's another great example from this year: In January, the state legislature passed a bill to create the Hill Forest State Natural Area in Nashville. In August, this new State Natural Area was further protected by a private conservation easement held by the Land Trust for Tennessee. This land is now being given to the City of Nashville and added to the Warner Parks system.

We think this is a perfect model for protecting the Old Forest and the other public spaces of Overton Park. It's obvious that the City of Nashville does not think State Natural Area designation poses any threat to their ability to manage their own parkland. Why should this be any different for the City of Memphis?

We hope the third draft of the City's conservation easement will offer real protection for Overton Park's public spaces and the ecological integrity of the Old Forest, and we strongly believe that the Old Forest State Natural Area is necessary.

How can you help? Contact Mayor Wharton by email or by phone at 901-576-6000. Tell him you stand with CPOP in support of the Old Forest State Natural Area and meaningful legal protection for all of Overton Park. You can also write a letter to the editor to help advocate for the highest level of protection for Overton Park.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Join Together

Our community coalition to create the Old Forest State Natural Area at Overton Park is growing rapidly! We're very grateful to these groups for standing with CPOP and the Old Forest:

If your civic group or business would like to join this coalition, please let us know.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Overton Park Legacy

Thursday, December 2, 2010 - The Memphis Flyer
Overton Park Legacy
Memphis' historic "Old Forest" needs permanent protection.

By Naomi Van Tol

Nearly 40 years ago, the original Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP) won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked the extension of Interstate 40 through Overton Park and a large swath of Midtown. Our community owes a great debt to this small group of citizens who fought so doggedly to protect our park and our neighborhoods. But are we honoring their legacy?

It's easy to assume that Overton Park is safe from harm. There are even a few laws to protect our city parks, like Section 12-84-2 of the Memphis Code of Ordinances: "It is unlawful for any person to cut, break or in any way injure or deface any tree, plant, or grass, or pick any flowers, leaves or nuts, wild or cultivated, in any park."

And yet, the Memphis Zoo clear-cut four acres of Overton Park's old-growth forest in early 2008 because our city's Park Services division quietly approved it. When were citizens told about this plan to destroy publicly owned parkland? We had to figure it out for ourselves, early one Saturday morning, when chainsaws and bulldozers arrived to churn a priceless ecosystem into mud.

Last year, a city-funded botanical study found a rich array of more than 330 plant species in Overton Park and defined the forest as "an extremely rare virgin or old-growth forest" that almost certainly began growing when the last ice age retreated 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.

That study concluded: "Overton Park's forest is a unique resource which cannot be replaced. It is invaluable to the city and to the region as an outstanding example of old-growth forest. Because it is within an urban setting, it is even more exceptional. Everything possible should be done to assure that it is protected in perpetuity."

Despite this strong recommendation, our exceptional forest still lacks any legal protection. Memphians know this forest as the "Old Forest" because it has always been there for us — a beautiful remnant of the big woods that once covered the Fourth Chickasaw Bluff — and it's time we stepped up to protect it.

Zoo expansion is just one threat to Overton Park's forest and other public spaces. Too often, our civic leaders treat parkland as if it's disposable. Memphis lags far behind our peer cities in park spending per capita and park acreage per capita, according to the Trust for Public Land. As recently as 2007, Mayor Willie Herenton and several City Council members proposed selling off more than 20 city-owned parks.

In the past two years, the city's engineering staff has proposed two different ways to repurpose Overton Park's Greensward for storm-water detention. Last year, Mayor A C Wharton and several City Council members proposed closing our city's oldest golf course because it's not a money-maker. The Memphis Zoo turns half of the Greensward into a private parking lot about 20 times a year.

Right now, the city is reviewing plans to convert part of the southeastern corner of Overton Park into an overflow parking lot for the Memphis Zoo. This space is occupied by city facilities — greenhouses, machine shops, storage buildings, offices, and a fuel station — which would need to be torn down and rebuilt elsewhere at great expense.

Maybe it's a good idea to relocate these facilities and redevelop the area as free public parkland. But does it make sense to spend our tax dollars to convert this land to a parking lot? Will citizens have any part in this decision? Going by the city's track record, we're likely to find out when the bulldozers arrive.

This woeful track record is why we are asking the city of Memphis to endorse the legislative designation of the Old Forest State Natural Area, which would protect Overton Park's 150-acre forest for citizens to enjoy forever. We also support a strong conservation easement to protect the cultural and historical integrity of all 342 acres of Overton Park. And we want all of this to happen with plenty of public input, communication, and transparency.

We are joined in this effort by Clean Memphis, Greater Memphis Greenline, Livable Memphis, Memphis Heritage, Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, Project Green Fork, Sierra Club, Skatelife Memphis, and many individual citizens.

We hope you'll join us, too.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Party for the Parks!

A public service message from some of our friends:

Wouldn't it be rad if Overton Park was connected to Shelby Farms Park? This radiculous concept is taking shape in the form of a bike/ped "artway" that passes from Overton Park through the Broad Avenue Arts District and down Tillman Street to the western terminus of the Shelby Farms Greenline.

Livable Memphis spearheaded this project and was awarded a $25k matching grant from the Alliance for Biking & Walking. Now, we need to do our part -- by partying like rock stars. All proceeds will go to help fund this connection.

So, come on down to The Cove on Friday, December 10, and get your groove on for connectivity. Doors open at 9PM -- $5 cover. Let's build a better future together.