Wednesday, April 30, 2008

This one's for the lovers

On November 28, 1978, Overton Park was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. That nomination was approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1979.

The nomination form was prepared by James F. Williamson Jr., a local architect. A bound photocopy is available in the Memphis Room of the Central Library if you wanna take a gander for yourself.

I made copies of the text but not the photos, because photocopies of photocopied photos are just a waste of good toner. To begin with, I've transcribed the inventory of existing structures. The numbers refer to this site plan:

As always, click to enlarge the image. The resolution on those teeny numbers is crappy but should be readable if you download the image. Make sure you limber up your squint muscles first to prevent injury. If you really want the 3.5MB version just email me.

  1. Main Entrance Gateposts: 1954, classical style, stone with balustrades, bronze plaques and carved eagles.
  2. E.H. Crump Memorial: 1957, bronze statue with stone base.
  3. Gazebo: Concrete with wood lattice pergola and drinking fountain.
  4. Brooks Memorial Art Gallery: 1916, white Georgia marble, Italian Renaissance Revival style; two later additions (1944 and 1973), landscaped gardens, monumental exterior stairs and terraces.
  5. Memphis Open Air Theatre: 1936, reinforced concrete orchestra shell, wooden benches and stage; modern metal storage wings.
  6. Memphis Academy of Arts: 1956, reinforced concrete and buff-colored brick, 3 stories; folded plate concrete roof.
  7. L.B. McFarland Memorial Campanile: c. 1906, twenty-five foot granite tower with clock and chimes.
  8. Clara Conway Memorial Formal Gardens: c. 1908, concrete walkways.
  9. Jenny M. Higbee Memorial: 1908, six marble Ionic columns on a semi-circular marble base surrounding a drinking fountain.
  10. "Doughboy" World War I Memorial: 1926, bronze statue of soldier on stone base.
  11. Wading Pool: 1914, concrete with water spray in center.
  12. Abe Goodman Golf Clubhouse: 1926, brick, Tudor-style, 1 1/2 story, tile roof, brick patio.
  13. Rainbow Lake: c. 1910, two-acre man-made lake.
  14. Bus Pavilions: c. 1910-1920, open wood frame, hipped roofs, wooden benches.
  15. Zoo Entrance Gate Posts: 1935, masonry, 10 feet in height, with carved stone lions.
  16. [Item missing.]
  17. Carnivora Building: 1909, one story, stuccoed masonry, clerestory, indoor and outdoor cages; decorative animal sculptures on exterior, including four lions with children.
  18. Old Pachyderm House (Education Building): 1909, one story, stuccoed masonry.
  19. Primate House: Modern, reinforced concrete, one-story with skylights and outdoor wire mesh cages.
  20. Flight Cage: 1935, 40 feet high, cylindrical steel frame with wire mesh enclosure.
  21. Bear Caves: c. 1939, concrete cliffs, moats, and dens.
  22. Otter Cave: c. 1939, concrete caves and pool, earth berm at rear, underground viewing chamber.
  23. Wolf Caves: 1939, concrete caves and moats.
  24. Monkey Island: 1936, concrete moat and retaining walls, earth mound with stone caves.
  25. East Concession: Modern, stone and wood frame, flat roof.
  26. Hooved Animal Corrals: Concrete retaining walls and open shelters with flat roofs.
  27. Maintenance Shop: Modern, concrete block with pitched shingled roof.
  28. Animal Hospital: Modern, one-story, brick, with flat built-up roof.
  29. Commissary: Modern, one-story, painted brick and concrete block, flat roof.
  30. North Restrooms: Modern, one-story brick, flat built-up roof.
  31. Hippopotamus House: Modern one-story, brick, flat built-up roof, with open gallery and concrete moats.
  32. Tortoise House: Modern, one-story, brick, with open gallery and concrete walled courtyards.
  33. Reptile House: Modern, reinforced concrete, one-story, covered with earth berm.
  34. Office Building: Modern, one-story, masonry, with flat roof.
  35. Sea Lion/Swan Pools: c. 1936, stone and concrete pools and walls; circular; divided into two pools.
  36. Ibex Mountain: c. 1939, concrete cliffs and dens; modern reinforced concrete moat and retaining walls.
  37. Octagon Barn: Stone, octagonal plan with octagonal roof and cupola; concrete walled courtyards.
  38. West Concession/Restrooms: Modern, one-story, concrete, with flat roof.
  39. Superintendent's House: c. 1910, one-story cottage, marble and wood frame exterior.
  40. Aquarium: Modern, one-story, brick, with flat roof; brick garden walls.
  41. Tropical Bird House: Formerly the "Palm House," extensively remodeled with translucent plastic and corrugated metal roof panels, brick walls.
  42. Amusement Area: Merry-go-round, other mechanical rides for small children.
  43. New Pachyderm House: Modern, one-story, reinforced concrete, flat roof, concrete and heavy timber retaining walls and moats.
  44. Hooved Animal Corrals: Modern, with concrete dens, and earth berm enclosures, concrete retaining walls.
  45. East Gate/Restrooms: Modern, reinforced concrete, one-story, with flat roof.
  46. Picnic Pavilion: Wood frame, with wood floor, open side railings, roof lantern, hexagonal plan.
  47. Fire Station No. 13: Modern, masonry, with composition shingle mansard roof and walls.
  48. Park Commission Office Building: Modern, one-story, wood and stone, with flat built-up roof.
  49. Maintenance Shop Building: c. 1935, one-story, poured concrete, with flat roof.
  50. Storage Building: Modern, prefabricated metal construction, one-story.
  51. Utility Building: Concrete masonry, one-story, pitched roof.
  52. Garage: Modern, one-story, prefabricated metal construction.
  53. Utility Building: Modern, one-story, prefabricated metal construction.
  54. Private Residence (215 E. Parkway): c. 1920, 1 1/2 story, wood frame cottage with front porch, masonry foundation walls and chimneys. [Handwritten note: "Removed 1980."]
  55. Greenhouses: Modern, six glass and steel frame greenhouse wings with concrete block structure in center.
  56. Utility Building: Modern, one-story, concrete block and wood frame, flat roof.
  57. Parking Shed: Modern, prefabricated metal, open sides.

Hope all you history buffs enjoyed this little trip down Monkey Island Lane. I'll transcribe the nine pages of descriptive text about Overton Park and post that soon -- it's good reading, and information wants to be free.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Is the Memphis Zoo just Chickasaw Bluffing?

Let's refresh our memories on the Memphis Zoo's official plan for the 17 Acre Wood inside that damn fence.

Here's the gospel according to Chuck:

Q. Does Teton Trek involve the Zoo's land near Rainbow Lake?
A. Teton Trek only involves the four acres of land east of Northwest Passage. The 17 1/2 acres of Zoo land near Rainbow Lake has never been planned for major development. The Zoo's master plan has reserved this area for a minimal impact forest trail exhibit.

Stacey explored this question in a regrettably brief conversation with the brave Unknown Soldier whose job includes checking the Memphis Zoo's emailbox every day.

This question has also been asked by others (see our media archives in the sidebar) and the upshot is that the leaders of the Memphis Zoo have consistently stated that they don't have any immediate plans for our Enchanted Forest but will most likely use that land for a fantabulous exhibit called "Chickasaw Bluffs" with a lovely nature trail that will introduce poor Joe Schmo and his family to the wonders of the Old Forest, but in any case it's all in the early planning stages and, of course, the Memphis Zoo will start "working soon to create a new 10-year master plan" so it's all under control, nothing to see here, move along please.

(Obviously I'm just paraphrasing. The Memphis Zoo's lovely and talented spokesmodels would never use run-on sentences in their press statements.)

So, we smelled a rat.

Then we thought maybe that smell was coming from a new hippo exhibit.

But it turns out that we were dead wrong. And we're big enough to admit it right here, in front of Chuck and everybody.

What we actually smelled was a herd of elephants.

That's a link to a lengthy Memphis Flyer article from January, 2007, which we failed to notice when it was first published. (Thanks, Google!) You can read the whole thing, or you can cheat and just read the highlights:
In the long term, zoo officials hope to build a much larger elephant space near the current site of the Northwest Passage, the zoo's recent expansion project for polar bears and other arctic animals. Mammal curator Matt Thompson says they'd eventually like to add two more elephants.

"We didn't give any thought to [closing our exhibit]," according to Matt Thompson, who says the elephants are his favorite animal. "We're very proud of our program. By all accounts, our elephants appear happy and healthy. I wish we had 20 of them. I wish we had 10 acres."

The planned elephant exhibit near the Northwest Passage won't come to fruition until around 2012. No plans have been drawn up detailing just how much more room the elephants will have in the new exhibit, but it will probably exceed the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' standards: 1,800 square feet of outdoor space for one elephant and 400 square feet of indoor space. To get an idea of the size of the spaces, consider that a football field is 57,600 square feet.

Let's do that math. A minimum of 2,200 square feet times four elephants (two current, two future) equals 8,800 square feet or two-tenths of one acre. That seems like a laughably small space for four elephants, doesn't it?

That's probably because it is a laughably small space for four elephants. But in this case, we're not just talking about a metaphorical elephant in the room. We're talking about losing more of Overton Park's irreplaceable old growth forest to yet another Memphis Zoo Stealth Clearcut®, aren't we?

Y'all thought this was just an April Fool's joke, but maybe it's not so funny after all.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Arbor Day

Oh man, did I have big plans for Arbor Day! Imagine 20 people joining the National Arbor Day Foundation, receiving ten trees each as a membership perk, and donating them all to the Memphis Zoo in the name of CPOP! That'd be about 200 native species to replace the ones they cut down. Hee hee.

Unfortunately, this great idea occurred to me after the April 16th deadline for a 2008 tree mailing.

Oh well.

Plan B involved leaving a few saplings outside of the Gates of Mordor with a witty note (and maybe even homemade brownies) for the nice construction workers. But, I had no guarantee that they'd plant the trees or eat the brownies.

So on to Plan C.

Warren suggested we plant two small oaks we got at Lichterman's Earthfest near our super secret special place in the forest with the kids before school/work on Friday. It was an awesome plan. What fun to get to go on a hike before going to the office! The kids found a really awesome cocoon, Warren found some mushrooms to cook up, and I found some naturally occurring mulch to help our saplings adjust to their new home.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Zoo That Time Forgot - Part G

I haven't had time to get photos of the Tropical Bird House so let's mix things up and skip from C to G on our handy dandy map.

Last Sunday, the Memphis Zoo finally revealed that the G-spot is the future site of the Zambezi River Hippo Camp.

(Of course the Memphis Zoo doesn't call it the G-spot. They call it "where the old bear pits used to be" -- frankly, I think that sounds dirtier.)

Let's start with the old eagle cage. Remember that iron monstrosity? You walk into the Memphis Zoo, trot past the gift shop and the education building and the First Recycling Bin (it really needs a historical marker) then follow the path toward the east. Ignore the entrance to Primate Canyon on your left; look to your right instead.

It's hard to tell in photos but that sucker is big. Here's a side view, looking west.

This cage has been unused for a long time, despite its huge untapped potential as a hipster wedding venue and/or sweet Roller Derby track. Before we leave the eagle cage, let's check out this pleasant little woodland path. Hey, there's an interpretive sign! What does it say?


Oh dear.

The woodland path leads us to the rustic Meadow Amphitheater, where a program is held every Sunday at 2:30pm on "Living with Venemous Snakes." I'm so glad the Memphis Zoo is taking a positive approach to educating the public about our local reptiles...

...and their giant pointy FANGS O' DEATH!

Moving east, we hit the duck/flamingo pond.

The flamingos will be incorporated into the Zambezi River exhibit. No word yet on whether the Memphis Zoo plans to relocate the ducks to other exhibits or just hold a "wild game dinner" fundraiser.

Check out the size of the grassy knoll on the south side of the duck pond. Is it just me, or does that trash can look a little sheepish, like he knows he's spoiling the vista?

Here's a third view of the duck pond, looking north toward Primate Canyon and Parkway House. The butterfly exhibit area is on your right.

Now spin around so you're facing Deep South.

Impressive, isn't it? This is the "Denizens of the Deep South" exhibit, complete with a drink machine full of 20-ounce Mountain Dews (regular and diet). Too bad they don't have a Moon Pie machine to complete the vision.

Here's the best photo I got from the top:

Then it goes downhill like a greased pig on roller skates.

I never knew bluegill could express complex emotions, but this one is clearly asking "O Lord of little fishes, why hast thou forsaken me?" and wishing for a sharp hook to carry him away.

What's the take-home lesson here, kids?
a) The Memphis Zoo believes the wetland habitat of the Deep South is roughly equivalent to a stadium toilet after the big game is over.
b) The Memphis Zoo spends millions on beautiful clean exhibits for charismatic furry critters like pandas and tigers, but those slimy old turtles and fish can just suck it.
c) The Memphis Zoo is blinded by the light bouncing off the future and can't see that the Deep South exhibit is insulting and nonsensical on every level.
d) All of the above.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Stick 'em up

CPOP stickers are here! We have two designs so you can pick your favorite or, if you're like me, just give up trying to choose and make space for both.

The DWF for all you straight-talking punk mothers and others:

The Treehugger for all you earthy mamas and papas:

We will mail you the sticker(s) of your choice as a thank-you gift for any donation to CPOP. (See the sidebar for details on how to donate.)

No money to spare? Then just send some love to Naomi's inbox.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Zoo That Time Forgot - Part C

Okay, we've explored the Aquarium and the Round Barn. Let's move on to the growth opportunities lurking under that big C:

We'll start at the south end, with Penguin Rock:

I remember this being "Monkey Island" back in the day, with spider monkeys and goats scrambling all over it. Can anyone confirm that?

Maybe it was all just one of those bizarre dreams... but anyway, now it's called Penguin Rock.

Last summer a loudspeaker on top of Penguin Rock would sporadically blare 30 seconds of the rock-n-roll stylings of Aerosmith or a similarly bitchin' band, then it would go silent again. It kind of freaked me out, man, and I can't imagine the penguins were huge fans.

I haven't heard Penguin Rock rocking out for awhile, so maybe the Zoo decided to ditch the punny antics.

The weebly-wobbly penguins are cute and whatnot, and you can tell they'd be awesome swimmers if they had room to really spread themselves, but that big rock fakey mountain is insurmountable to their stubby legs. The cormorant that mopes around the place looks like it's got clipped wings and can't enjoy those giddy heights, either.

There's a lot of wasted vertical space in that exhibit.

Next up, the two white pelicans that inhabit the old sea lion pool:

I don't have much to say about this exhibit. I like white pelicans, but I prefer to see them whirling in great majestic flocks above the Mississippi River.

Here's the north half of the pool, starring those lucky, lucky trumpeter swans:

We already know they're going to a better place by-and-by.

So basically, I doubt anyone would miss Penguin Rock or the old sea lion pool if that primo real estate was replaced by a shiny new exhibit of any variety.

Finally, at the northern tip of Section C, we have the "Asian Garden." This photo is looking southwesterly, with the west side of the Round Barn at the top right and the north side of the old sea lion pool at the top left.

This is a nice restful patch of green space. I enjoy the understated details of the landscaping, and I'm certainly not advocating for the wanton destruction of the Asian Garden.

But if you put a snarling grizzly bear to my head and made me choose... well, it's no old growth forest, is it?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I have a dream...

...although fantasy might be a more apt term.

It goes like this:

CPOP meets with the Zoo on May 2 and eloquently explains that while the Memphis Zoo may be a major boon to the local tourist economy, it is also a major annoyance to Midtown residents (and others) who want to enjoy the Old Forest and other attractions in Overton Park.

CPOP suggests that since the Memphis Zoo has nearly doubled its attendance from 550,000 visitors to over 1,000,000 annually in last 10 years, it might make sense to factor in the impact those millions of visitors are having on the park. CPOP points out that while creating new exhibits and improving existing ones is good and all (*cough*), adequate parking might be nice too. I know that the people who go to the Greensward to play soccer, have a picnic, or learn how to ride a bike would certainly appreciate it.

The Memphis Zoo nimbly counters: “Oh, it’s only a few days out of the year that we have parking overflow onto the Greensward.” CPOP points out that it is those same exact days —- the holidays, the sunny days, the special event days -- when people who live near the park also want to enjoy the wide open spaces trapped beneath the Memphis Zoo's overflowing collection of SUVs.

"But wait," the Memphis Zoo reps say, "We thought you treehugging crackheads were here to oppose our old growth clearcut?"

CPOP smiles and says, "Glad you mentioned that." Then CPOP suggests that, in order to atone for sins against nature and restore public trust, the Memphis Zoo should tear down the fence surrounding the remaining 17 acres of old growth forest under their "care" and give everyone else a chance to enjoy it.

Because really, it doesn’t make much sense for the Memphis Zoo to create a "Chickasaw Bluffs" exhibit when there’s already a good amount of the real Chickasaw Bluffs on display in the park -- for free.

One of our readers, jccvi, optimistically suggested: “The Zoo exhibit could perhaps serve as an entry point to the rest of the forest, allowing people put off by the seedy reputation to experience and eventually defend this treasure we've been entrusted with in Memphis.”

Maybe, but take a look at this map:

Then think about it this way:

Joe Schmo and his family are new to Memphis. They decide to visit the Memphis Zoo on a lovely sunny Saturday... just like thousands of other people. The Memphis Zoo’s parking lot is full, so they’ve been instructed to park on the Greensward near Rainbow Lake. As the Schmos get out of their Honda Odyssey, their son, Joe Jr., looks over his shoulder and spots... a puddle!

Joe Jr. pokes his toe in that puddle and wonders if there are any fish or turtles in that big pond nearby. Mrs. Schmo looks up at the fence surrounding Rainbow Lake, thinks nothing of the trees standing on the other side, and herds Joe Jr. back over to his little sister Schmo-Schmo.

The four Schmos start the arduous walk to the Memphis Zoo entrance, pay their $37 including parking (Schmo-Schmo gets in free) and begin their adventure. Chances are they will never really make it all the way to the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit because Joe Jr.’s feet hurt and Joe Sr. is tired of carrying him and/or Schmo-Schmo has blown out her last remaining diaper.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say they do make it. Joe Jr. loves it! He is running through the trails with the wind in his hair! He’s climbing trees! He’s found a turtle!

He’s instructed by a Memphis Zoo official to stay on the path! Get off that tree! Put that turtle down! Get that wind out of your hair, kid!

The Schmos are really embarrassed about their son’s behavior. “It’s been a long day,” they say, as they desperately look for a Zoo Tram to take them back to the main entrance. Maybe there will even be a shuttle from the main entrance to the Greensward where they left their family truckster hours ago. (Maybe the shuttle will even accept a credit card since they spent all of their cash on gift shop mementos, flattened pennies, Dippin Dots, Back Yard Burgers, carousel rides, and Zoo Trams.)

Once everyone is safely buckled in, Joe Sr. glances at that fence behind Rainbow Lake. Mrs. Schmo is rushing him so she can get little Schmo-Schmo in a clean diaper, but he can’t stop staring. Then it hits him.

He just spent 45 minutes begging and pleading and spending hard-earned cash in order to get the much-in-need-of-a-nap Joe Jr., poopy Schmo-Schmo, and cranky Mrs. Schmo back to the car that was only a hundred feet away from where Joe Jr. was having so much fun before those Zoo officials crushed his spirit.

Now, don’t start thinking the lovely earth muffins behind CPOP say DOWN WITH FENCE just because they are too lazy to hike to their minivans after a long day at the Memphis Zoo.

CPOP wants the fence down so that when Joe Jr. wanders over to Rainbow Lake to investigate a puddle, his mother will look up, see the lovely foot bridge crossing Lick Creek into the Old Forest and say, “Hey Joe, wanna go check out those awesome trees over there?”

After sitting speechless for a long while, the Memphis Zoo reps eventually say: "You know, we never thought of it that way. We're so sorry. I guess we've been a little selfish, and not the best neighbors. We've got to do better. There should be more parking and less fence!"

Then we all join hands and sing Kumbaya and go out dancing.

Overton Park is still endangered

Letters to the Editor
Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - Commercial Appeal
Overton Park is still endangered

In response to Glenn Cox's April 18 Viewpoint guest column, "Overton Park, symbol for our future success":

I'm a native Memphian, working on my master's in environmental and natural resources law at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Ore. In my administrative law class last semester, I was proud of the activists in my hometown for all that occurred in the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP) case, a landmark administrative law case. I disagree with Cox that it was a "bitter lawsuit" with "with no glory to anyone."

In the 1970s, the activist group CPOP thwarted state and federal plans to run Interstate 40 through our park. Yes, the victory was won at a great cost, but in my mind it remains both a victory and a valuable lesson. But now what?

You can't imagine my dismay when I came home for spring break in March to see the Memphis Zoo's clear-cutting of four acres of the Old Forest, with plans for an additional 17 acres. Where did all those activists go? Thankfully, a few have revived CPOP in an effort to save what remains of the Old Forest, but it seems the zoo and Park Friends, Inc. have a different agenda.

I feel like the zoo and Park Friends, Inc. have no concept of the value of the Old Forest, much less the management of it, and its fate lies in the zoo's hands. I am perplexed by Cox's comment that, with regard to the razing of four acres of the Old Forest for the Teton Trek exhibit, "What could have been a difficult issue was instead addressed productively among us all, as users of the park with common conservation goals."

I want to hear more about these "common conservation goals," because conservation and clear-cutting are total opposites. You can't say you support conservation and then clear-cut four acres of old-growth forest.

And if you're going to talk about issues being addressed "productively among us all," then let us all have meaningful input in the future of the additional 17 acres of fence-quarantined "green space" in Overton Park, the Old Forest.

Lenore Warr
Portland, Ore.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Elephant in the room

Something about yesterday's Commercial Appeal article kept nagging at me, and I finally figured it out.

Brady said the goal is to provide a natural exhibit for the entire collection, but that takes money and time.

"I'd put them all in a new exhibit today if we had the money to build them," Brady said. "In the meantime we add enhancements to stimulate them and keep them happy and healthy."

That's a laudable statement, isn't it?

But it doesn't quite mesh with the reality of spending nearly $16 million* on the Teton Clearcut. Why? Because that new exhibit will not enhance the quality of life for any of the animals who currently live at the Memphis Zoo.

As we learned when the $16 million CHINA exhibit opened in April of 2003, and when the $23 million Northwest Passage opened in March of 2006, a brand new exhibit at the Memphis Zoo means that we get brand new animals.

The Teton Clearcut is no exception.

Here's the Memphis Zoo's official list of animals that will be on display after the ugly Teton Clearcut finally completes its painful metamorphosis into the somewhat less ugly Teton Trek: grizzly bears, elk, grey wolves, arctic waterfowl, sandhill cranes, and trumpeter swans.

What this boils down to is that the Memphis Zoo's two trumpeter swans will have a new pond to swim in. They seem okay with their current quarters, but who knows, maybe they're suffering.

Still, does this justify $16 million that could be spent on new exhibits to create space for other animals who are many times larger and smarter than swans?

You do the math on that one.

*The CA reported that Teton Trek will cost $13.5 million. I'm going with the Memphis Zoo's official Teton Trek FAQ which says "nearly $16 million."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Teton Clearcut Progress Report

Our friend Gary Bridgman risked life and limb yesterday, balancing atop a rusted shopping cart to obtain this lovely panorama of the Teton Clearcut. I hope you all enjoy the fruits of Gary's exemplary devotion to the People's Right To Know.

Click the pic to biggify.

Humans need habitat, too

Congratulations to the Memphis Zoo on today's big story in the Commercial Appeal about all the exhibit upgrades in the past 20 years. And we helped!

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.

The zoo is raising $15 million to build the hippo camp, which will be to the right of the entrance, where the old bear exhibits used to be. It will free the hippos from the bright blue pools they've stayed in since 1916.

Hooray for the hippos! But then can we build a parking garage? Pretty please?

Photos by Gary Bridgman -- thanks, Gary!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Got to get ourselves back to the garden

Thanks to today's glorious weather, the Overton Park Greensward was fulfilling its intended purpose as... a parking lot for the Memphis Zoo?

Counting cars across the Greensward as I waited at the Rainbow Lake parking lot for my nature hikers to arrive, I spent some time wondering about the precise terms of the "accord" that Park Friends Inc. forged with the Memphis Zoo. PFI's website says:

PFI and the Zoo recently forged an accord allowing a finite level of overflow Zoo parking onto the Overton Park Greensward; this agreement allows park users to continue enjoying the Greensward with families, friends and pets.
Oh, really?

We headed off to begin a peaceful hike in the northeast corner of the Old Forest.

Check out the gigantic grape vine on this ancient tulip poplar! I'd be willing to bet good money that both of these plants are older than 150 years, which means they've been alive longer than Overton Park has existed.

Meanwhile, back at the Greensward...

But at least we didn't have to compete with cars in our recreational space, way back in the northeast corner of the Old Forest, right?


All of the "people gates" in Overton Park are closed to motorized traffic. But the Memphis Zoo is holding its annual plant sale this weekend, and the Memphis Zoo has keys to those gates.

Zoo expansion takes a heavy toll

Letters to the Editor
Saturday, April 19, 2008 - Commercial Appeal
Zoo expansion takes a heavy toll

I've lived near Overton Park for a decade and walk in the park on a daily basis. When my husband and I bought a house in the neighborhood surrounding Overton Park five years ago, we were overjoyed. We love the zoo and join it every year.

However, the encroachment of the zoo into the Old Forest, inspiration for Pulitzer Prize winner Peter Taylor's "The Old Forest," a publicly designated space, which a group of citizens fought to keep from destruction when the highway was going to be built through it years ago, is a public shame. I love the zoo, but the clear cutting of old forest will encourage me to boycott zoo attendance.

I see the interest of zoo profits winning out over the public use of beautiful land. Shame on Memphis.

Tina Barr

Friday, April 18, 2008

Talkin' bout my generation gap

Last month, CPOP asked Park Friends Inc. if we could attend one of their board meetings and chat with them. They graciously agreed and placed us first on the agenda.

We were all looking forward to hearing about PFI's activities and future plans, but a few days before the meeting, Glenn Cox said the group expected us to leave immediately after our agenda item.

Oh, so that's why they let us go first...

Stacey and I attended the meeting on Wednesday night and got a very friendly reception. (Amy had to cancel at the last minute because one of her clients was in labor.) Between the three of us, we know most of the people on the PFI board.

PFI's newest and most youthful board member -- Memphis Zoo spokesmodel Brian Carter -- decided to skip his first meeting, foolishly missing a golden opportunity to gather intel for his commanders back in the bunker.

After a lengthy chat with the PFI board, Stacey and I skipped off like good little girls, as instructed, feeling pretty charitable toward PFI.

Okay, so PFI's official position on the Teton Clearcut is more about shoring up their own tarnished reputation than protecting the Old Forest, but nobody's perfect, right?

But the afterglow didn't last long. I was reading my friend Glenn Cox's guest editorial in the CA this morning (see below) and nodding my still-sleepy head in agreement, when I hit this paragraph and woke right up.

The users of any park will always have different priorities. A case in point is the recent discussion related to the zoo's clearing of a portion of the forest for construction of its Teton Trek project. What could have been a difficult issue was instead addressed productively among us all, as users of the park with common conservation goals.

I re-read that three or four times, hoping it would start making sense when my coffee kicked in, but it didn't.

The only logical explanation is that PFI operates in a parallel universe -- running about two years ahead of ours -- in which the Memphis Zoo has apologized for clearing and grubbing an old-growth forest, promised to never pull such a boneheaded move again, and donated a few million dollars toward the caretaking of the remaining Old Forest.

It's a bit premature to talk about the Teton Clearcut as if it's ancient history.

Glenn goes on to say:
The important thing is to give full worth to the value of our natural heritage. Our forebears did...

Did they, really? I always thought it was our forebears who chopped down the virgin forests of the Chickasaw Bluffs, wiped woodland bison off the face of the planet, and slaughtered millions of passenger pigeons and Carolina parakeets until they ran out of birds to kill.

Our forebears also did their level best to exterminate black bears, red wolves, elk, cougar, and numerous other species. Even resilient critters like white-tailed deer and beaver were nearly extinct by the early 1900s, thanks to the hunting skills of our forebears.

That wasn't about giving worth to the value of our natural heritage; it was about making money and "civilizing" the wild land. Exactly as the Memphis Zoo is doing right now. And as they will continue to do, until we make them stop.

As William Faulkner said, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."

Overton Park, symbol for our future success

Guest Editorial
Friday, April 18, 2008 - Commercial Appeal
Overton Park, symbol for our future success

Young people who decide to make Memphis their home are the key to that success, and they say clearly that green space is a fundamental of the life they seek.

By Glenn Cox

For years, springtime has meant an outing in the park. For more than 100 years, for Memphians that has meant Overton Park.

For untold hundreds of us, it still does. As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day next week, we at Park Friends Inc., the nonprofit park support group, understand why Overton Park remains our pride and is so often featured in literature explaining why Memphis is a great place to live.

When it was created out of Lea Woods at what was then our city's eastern edge, its uncut old-growth forest was, even then, considered a rare and ancient place. Overton Park was an instant success. It was soon improved with a lake and a tasteful art museum constructed out of marble, as well as the city's first golf course, where you could play nine holes of this new sport.

At the park's eastern edge near East Parkway and Poplar, there was a riding stable. Horses were for rent to gentlemen and to ladies who might ride sidesaddle on the bridle paths within the Old Forest.

Soon, nearby residents tied a captured bear named Natch to a tree in the park. From this humble beginning the Memphis Zoo was born. In the late 1950s, the Memphis College of Art was added to the park.

But always, Overton Park was a place to go to be outdoors, to be restored by nature's bounties. It was a place for children to run and play or for adults to hike. Its deep woods were silent except for the voices of songbirds.

It was popular and successful, but its success begat continued growth. The stables became a maintenance shed, which was expanded, and expanded again and yet again, to serve the needs of Midtown far beyond the park's borders. When Memphians needed a firehouse, they found a site -- one that nobody was using, close to the playground, which didn't cost a penny to acquire.

Each addition to the park was progress to someone. But then, as the years passed, some began to ask: Progress at what price?

Apparently, little attention was paid to that question until the unfortunate "Overton Park case," which arose in the 1960s, when the interstate system was coming in and engineers were asked to plan a route from Memphis' then-thriving Downtown out to the growing eastern suburbs.

The engineers' route, straight through Overton Park, was quickly approved by our city fathers, who were ready to move ahead with construction of this virtually "free" project financed by federal and state funding. It was justified as the route with the fewest disruptions to homeowners and with over a mile-long stretch of unoccupied woods, making it unnecessary to displace a single citizen in that portion of the project and having the further virtue that the city would get paid for the land taken. It seemed a win-win situation.

Only, it wasn't. We all paid the price of the bitter lawsuit that followed, with no glory to anyone. Hundreds of homeowners in neighborhoods near Overton Park were displaced for a road never built, and the city was left with no interstate through town.

If there was a lesson in all of that turmoil, it was that people care about parks and green spaces, that such places have a value of their own, and that their value must always be considered in any land-use or development plans.

The users of any park will always have different priorities. A case in point is the recent discussion related to the zoo's clearing of a portion of the forest for construction of its Teton Trek project. What could have been a difficult issue was instead addressed productively among us all, as users of the park with common conservation goals.

The important thing is to give full worth to the value of our natural heritage. Our forebears did, and even today Carol Coletta, a longtime Memphian who is president of CEOs for Cities in Chicago, expresses the case in new and convincing ways.

Our future, she explains, is tied to keeping and developing our 25- to 34-year-olds. Where they decide to live and build a future depends, second only to their job selection, on the quality of life they seek. This generation tells us, ever more strongly, that a fundamental of the quality of the life that they seek is "green space."

Although we devote considerable energy to bringing people in to visit, it is not the people who come into our city to spend money and leave who really matter. We are proud to have them, but what really matters are those who come to stay and grow with us. Their lives, and ours, are anchored in things that last longer than we do.

That's why our parks and trails and riverfront, and our queen mother of parks, with its Greensward and Rainbow Lake and the Old Forest, are so important, not just on Earth Day, but every day.

Glenn Cox is president of the board of Park Friends Inc.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Zoo That Time Forgot - Part B

After the Dismal Aquarium experience, it's a relief to move on to an exhibit with real live animals. And interpretive plaques (slightly careworn, but aren't we all?) that describe what you're looking at!
"ROUND BARN? No one is sure when the nickname was first used but, the "Round Barn" is actually octagon shaped. Originally built as a horse barn for the Memphis Police Department's Mounted Patrol, it became obsolete when the police began using automobiles. In 1923 it was moved to the Zoo to house hoofed mammals. The stone facades and walls were added in the 1950s. It was last renovated in 1988."

The Round Barn features a number of smallish African animals: dama gazelle, nyala, warthogs, demoiselle cranes, klipspringer antelope, Red River hogs, steenbok, gerenuk, red flanked duiker, and -- always a crowd pleaser -- the tiny dik-dik.

Looks like the nyala got the crappy end of that barnyard.

Did you know warthogs can run up to 30 miles per hour? I'd like to see them try to hit top speed in this cage, but those turns are ridiculously tight.

How to sum up the Round Barn?

It's not terrible. It's nice enough, in an old school chain-link fence kind of way. It's also taking up space that could easily be redeveloped into a shiny new exhibit, especially if combined with the outdated exhibits in Section C.

Until our next installment, I'll leave you to ponder this koan:
Antelope are mostly vegetarians. Some are browsers
that feed on the leaves of bushes and trees.
Others are grazers that eat grass.
Still other antelope are
both browsers and

(To be continued...)