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?