Thursday, July 31, 2008

Going downtown


Citizens to Preserve Overton Park will give a presentation to the Parks Committee of the Memphis City Council at 9:00am on Tuesday, August 5. Committee meetings are held in the City Council Conference Room on the 5th floor of City Hall. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Wild Side of Life

Today's guest post is from Elaine Blanchard, who joined us for an Old Forest hike last month and was inspired to write this essay. Thank you, Elaine!

Richard Louv, journalist and nature lover, has written a book called Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. He coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” in the process of his study and concern for what our children are missing when they are not encouraged to know the world outside as part of their home and school. Louv recalls an evening meal when his son looked across the table and asked, “Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?”

As adults, we have stories to tell of play, of free space in vacant lots and free time after school. We caught tadpoles in the creek. We built forts in the wooded area down the road. We fished in the pond on our friend’s farm. We knew the goats on our grandparents’ land. We knew that black snakes lived among the wild flowers we picked and we knew they were just as scared of us as we were scared of them. The smell of pig waste was familiar to our nose. Our dogs ran beside us in open spaces and led us to the shade trees where we leaned back and imagined ourselves into great places. Nature embraced our dreams and promised to go with us as we pursued our highest goals. We did so much of our living outside. Our knees stayed skinned and our elbows had permanent grass stains. It was fun, no doubt about that.

Today our children are shuttled from place to place inside fast-moving vehicles. Television, the internet and electronic games hold them captive in the bedroom or playroom, where only filtered air reaches their nostrils. We no longer see children running and laughing in the yards and meadows. Their games are scheduled and parents are stressed to get them to the game on time. Children have no free time and no free spaces outside the manicured lawn for dreaming. Where will they imagine a better world? How will they learn to care about the rocks, the fields, the forests and rivers, if they do not develop a relationship with them?

Our children rarely get to experience a rotten log, learning how death is part of life and how death feeds life. Children need a chance to build their own grapevine hut in the woods. We all lose something of great value when our children no longer lie on their backs in the grass and stare upward, into the emptiness of sky. Children need a special place outside, a place they can think of as sacred and safe, a place to go when their spiritual lives need encouragement.

As Louv suggests on page 7 of his book:

“Nature offers healing for a child living in a destructive family or neighborhood. It serves as a blank slate upon which a child draws and reinterprets the culture’s fantasies. Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses. Given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion. Nature can frighten a child too, and this fright serves a purpose. In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.”

For those adults among us who have lived urban lives and view a patch of forest as if it hides only things that bite us or grab us and throw us to the ground, we need the courage and curiosity of our children to help us step into the wild side. To go outside with our children is to become a learner with them. Children teach us how to be in awe.

There is an absolute wonder in the eyes of children when they contemplate butterflies, a bird’s nest, frogs. These experiences bond parent and child, teacher and student. No ticket is required. The only requirement is a willingness to be amazed and a mind open to learn something new about ourselves and our children. They will lead us beyond the walls of our world and outside what is written into our overstuffed daily planners.

Take a child outside and remember how much fun it is to simply be alive.

Elaine Blanchard is a freelance writer, a published author, and a professional storyteller. She finds inspiration in her Midtown backyard and in her daily walks through Overton Park.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sunday morning, praise the dawning

Sunday dawned hot and muggy so I assumed that any enthusiasm for the morning's Old Forest nature hike would be wiped out by the triple-digit weather forecast.

But I'm always happy to have an excuse to walk in the woods whether anyone else shows up or not, so I found a shady spot on the Lick Creek bridge to admire the scenery and limber up my sweat glands.

People often ask me to describe the meeting spot for our nature hikes, so I finally remembered to take a photo. Here 'tis:

During my fifteen-minute wait time, I said hey to ten intrepid (possibly insane?) runners, six people ambling at a nice sensible speed, three dogs walking their people, and five cyclists -- a surprisingly high tally for weather that felt more like a submarine boiler room than anything natural.

I was even more surprised when fifteen smiling people showed up for my hike. Good grief! What kind of human would happily go hiking in a subtropical forest in 100+ weather?!?

The totally awesome kind.

Stacey hung out at the back of the line with her family. We always have a rear guard to make sure nobody escapes.

That's why Stacey got to see all the best bugs.

Those kids of ours will be guiding CPOP nature hikes before too long. If you have any budding naturalists in the house, bring 'em on! Our next hike is Saturday, August 9, 10am to 11:30am. That's our meeting spot up there at the top of this post.

And speaking of raising nature-loving kids, check back tomorrow for an excellent guest post on that topic.

Friday, July 25, 2008

It isn't even past

Okay, so you may recall our frustratingly arduous pursuit of a copy of the 1988 Overton Park Master Plan. And you may recall that we finally got a lovely fat packet o' info from Ritchie Smith Associates (thanks, Ritchie!) that included the elusive Overton Park Master Plan and its foldout map.

That packet also included a 75-page report titled "Overton Park: The Evolution of a Park Space" that was prepared in 1987 by John Linn Hopkins as background history for the 1988 Overton Park Master Plan.

Here's the table of contents:

Here's a quote from the introduction:

In the case of Overton Park, the demands upon the available park space may be quickly reaching a point where, without very careful planning and courageous administration, the park will soon face its breaking point. Every bit of the park that is removed from greenspace for use of the expansion of a cultural institution or for the creation of parking presses the park closer and closer to this point.

And a quote (p. 37) from the designer of Overton Park:
In Overton Park you have saved the other chief characteristic of this region by preserving in the forest conditions the virgin forest upon that property. Nowhere in the United States, except in the Pacific Northwest, will you find tree growth as luxuriant as in the Western Tennessee and Eastern Arkansas forests, and in the two hundred acres of virgin forest in Overton Park you have a property which, as a heritage to the public for the enjoyment of nature, equals in value the cost of the entire park system to the present time. -George E. Kessler, 1911

You can download the whole thing as a 6MB PDF and read it for yourself. If you're inspired to do that, please share your thoughts.

We can't chart our way forward if we don't know where we've already been.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The White Rose Rebellion

A member of the "White Rose Rebellion" sent me this picture and a copy of a handout they passed out last Saturday at the Memphis Zoo entrance. The group's tagline is: "The white rose - resist complacency! Dare to think!"

How much zoo can we afford?
When will zoo tickets go to 20 dollars or more?

Every day the Memphis Zoo pays thousands of dollars to China for the two pandas it has LEASED as a status symbol. That bleeds more than $100 an hour, night and day, rain or shine until 2013. The original $3 pay-per-view scheme was dropped, while zoo ticket prices rose from 10 to 13 dollars. Although the math is obvious, the 30% ticket increase was (officially) explained away with rising costs at the zoo. We all have reason to be concerned as the zoo keeps expanding and building! We should boldly question the costly decisions of the zoo CEO who himself is paid more than $150,000 annually (not counting his expense account and other perks and benefits).

Ticket sales and memberships make up only a portion of the zoo’s total budget and the city (all of us) still pays millions in subsidies. The zoo continues to expand into the old forest with new expensive attractions, while many of ‘the old animal collections’ languish in outdated exhibits. Somebody has the priorities wrong! The regular zoo employees are underpaid, their shifts are rumored to have been cut and consolidated. Turn-over is high! Expect the animals to pay a price too!

One of the new attractions being build, called ‘Teton Trek’ brought the destruction of more than four acres of ancient forest. This has caused uproar throughout Memphis and even brought the revival of a 70’s group protecting Overton Park. Claims of an allegedly ‘transparent 20-year master-plan’ are contradicted by interviews in 2006, after a large corporate donation to the zoo. Here the zoo director ditches existing ‘modest previous plans’ for grander schemes, keeping details in a shroud of secrecy. No hearings – no public input! Never asking permission to CLEAR-CUT to bare dirt, but expecting forgiveness, is an old political trick, which SO FAR has worked. (We are proud of the Memphis men and women, who achieved a Supreme Court ruling in 1971, protecting the ancient, perpetual forest of Overton Park.)

The Memphis Zoo is still one of the better ones in the country, but it is slipping away from us. It is out of touch with the community, getting less affordable and obsessed with dubious ATTRACTION building schemes. Any zoo claim ‘to be guardians of conservation and protection of the natural world’ has a hollow ring now.

Memphis needs to hold public officials accountable. The costly mistakes and slick deceptions keep adding up. What about the missing FEDEX-FORUM parking garage floor? And who is paying the upkeep and mortgage on an empty PYRAMID, our sad landmark? We all are, not just with high city taxes! Our schools come up short, with crime and corruption in the city out of control. LET’S SPEAK UP!

Let’s axe the hacks, who bust the trust!

Very interesting. Our contact in the White Rose Rebellion said they plan to continue this type of direct action in the future.

And speaking of spinoff groups, I've been seeing these stickers around town for awhile:

It finally occurred to me to do a Google search. Not only did I find that awesome picture on Rebecca Sikes' Flickr page, but I found out that the Lorax and his posse have a MySpace account.

I don't even have a MySpace account!

Check it out.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

From the WTF Files

From today's Commercial Appeal...

"A crew from [Rachael Ray's] daytime talk show is expected in town to film Mwelu (pronounced m-WAY-loo), a 21-year-old male lowland gorilla that resides at the Memphis Zoo. Mwelu is crazy about the show (which airs at 11 a.m. weekdays on WMC-TV Channel 5), discovered Germantown resident Ann Sharpsteen and her 8-year-old son, Matt.

'We were looking at the big male gorilla Mwelu and the zookeeper told us that when he's not on public display, he's in the back all day long watching TV, and his favorite by far is Rachael Ray,' said Sharpsteen."

At first I was speechless, but now I have a lot to say about this.

Think we can get Chuck to add a few "low-impact" TVs in the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit? I can see the ad campaign now: "See nature without missing the game!" Alternatives could be "...without missing Oprah!" or "...without missing your favorite soap opera!" The possibilities are endless!

Oh laugh now, but, really, it might just be the only way to get people into the scary Old Forest!

Of course, we'll need to add a few comfy sofas and La-Z-boys along the boardwalk.

Maybe Mwelu could be trained to deliver beers? Not everyday of course, just for fancy fundraisers....

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sounds from the Old Forest

Here are a few, slight audio recordings I made in the Old Forest in late May, around 7 p.m.

Old Forest Sounds 1
Old Forest Sounds 2
Old Forest Sounds 3
Old Forest Sounds 4
Old Forest Sounds 5
Old Forest Sounds 6

Hopefully we'll be able to make some more, of higher quality and longer duration.


Fallen Tree in Old Forest

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Natural is the Normal

For a long time I've wanted to measure the temperature differences between the Old Forest and nearby urban areas, to see the difference the green cathedral has on temperature.

On June 8th I pulled together quite the rig to do it and within the span of a little over an hour (~3:30-4:30p.m.), I measured the temperature in the following locations:

  • the Overton Square parking lot (aka, "Satan's Griddle") Memphis Temperature Test .

  • next to the Overton Square parking lot, in the shade of a lone magnolia. Memphis Temperature Test

  • In the Old Forest. 030

  • At the edge of the Teton Trek clearcut, with the cut on one side and the Old Forest on the other. Memphis Temperature Test

  • In the middle of the Overton Park Greensward. Memphis Temperature Test

While the temperature remained constant at 93 degrees at the Memphis International Airport, I measured the following temps, sorted hot to cool
  1. Overton Square parking lot, full sun, 100 degrees.

  2. Teton Trek clearcut-adjacent, full sun, 96 degrees.

  3. Greensward and tree shade in Overton Square, full sun and shade, respectively, 93 degrees.

  4. Old Forest, shade, 87 degrees.
While the official measured temps stayed constant, I measured a 13 degree difference as I traveled from parking lots and clearcuts to urban shade and sunlit greeenswards and finally to the rich shade of the Old Forest. All within a 1 mile radius of each other.

View Larger Map

Since the Old Forest is Memphis' natural state -- what we approach when we let up on the chainsaw and lawnmower -- the 87 isn't special, it's normal. We complain about the heat in Memphis, but a good chunk comes from the artificial climate we've created with bulldozers, which we then have to over-correct with the artificial climate of air-conditioning.

Of course, even with deep shade, we will still have humidity coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. But what we pay for in humidity, we get back in beauty, abundance, shade and lower temperatures.
That is, unless we knock our forests down and turn our world into a humid desert.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Satura tota nostra est

Just a quick post to let y'all know that CPOP supporter and graphic artist Dakoda Davis wishes to share his satirical portrait of the President/CEO of the Memphis Zoo:
Thanks, Dakoda!

Monday, July 14, 2008

More signal, less noise

Ah, the internet. It allows us to communicate with the world in unprecedented and amazing ways, but social niceties tend to get lost in translation. It's too easy to forget that real people typed those words on your screen. It's too easy for a healthy debate to devolve into a cacophony of voices shouting in a dark room.

I have a little rule for myself: I don't make anonymous comments on websites. This rule keeps me honest. That isn't to say my comments are always wise -- I'm only human, just like you -- but it does mean I hold myself accountable for what I say to other people.

The heady thrill of online anonymity can inspire an otherwise polite and rational person to do the equivalent of walking into a stranger's living room and pissing on the rug.

And that rug really tied the room together, man.

This is all to explain why the CPOP board has decided to stop allowing anonymous comments on our website. You may use a pseudonym or your real name, but you may not be completely anonymous.

We encourage you all to keep sharing your thoughts and questions, whether you support CPOP or not. Many of you have given us valuable insights over the past four months and we hope you will continue to do so. But it's time to cut back on the static.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A forest without fences

Today's guest post is from CPOP supporter Greg Russell. Thanks, Greg!

First, thanks to CPOP for again allowing me to voice my thoughts on this blog. I want to say thanks to all of the responses I got the last time I guest-blogged — both the positive and the negative comments. Communication between two opposing sides of an issue is very important and I hope that no matter which side of the fence you are on, that will be recognized.

Unfortunately, the Memphis Zoo did not think enough of the citizens of Memphis to ask for their input before destroying four acres of the Old Forest. I understand from zoo employees that zoo administrators purposely acted in a secretive manner, fearing public opposition could halt the Teton Trek project.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a supporter of a strong zoo, but I am beginning to question the competence of current zoo management. They cranked up their bulldozers and in a matter of days, mowed down a rich forest ecosystem that had taken thousands of years to come about.

Imagine the habitat that was lost due to this clear-cutting.

A public forum to further discuss the zoo’s future plans is needed, and when one is held, please everyone come out to it. Remember that the citizens of Memphis fought the federal government and won — even after hundreds of homes were torn down to make way for the proposed interstate that would have bisected Overton Park.

Because of the zoo’s destruction of the forest that was under their care, I am very hesitant to leave any of the remaining Old Forest in the hands of the zoo. A much better option is to take down the existing fence and allow FREE access to all.

There are already parts of the Old Forest that are accessible to those with disabilities, and CPOP and other groups lead free nature hikes. The zoo could do a public service to the many folks who can’t afford the zoo’s high and rising prices by also offering free hikes within this area, all without the fence that does nothing now but put a stranglehold on the entirety of the Old Forest.

Yesterday morning I was unable to get to CPOP’s hike through the Old Forest, but I did make it out shortly after the start of the hike for a run through the woods. It was nice to hear the sound of young voices echoing through the forest, as it appeared that quite a few folks were attending CPOP’s excellent and informative hike.

As a frequent trail user myself, I think it very important to note that there has been a marked increase in the number of people hiking the trails on their own. Because of this, I believe that the 17 acres of forest that the zoo fenced in would better serve the majority of Memphians if the fence did not exist. More folks could enjoy the forest as a whole rather than running up on a chain link fence. Educational hikes by CPOP and other friends of the park could then take place in a setting that is free and accessible to all.

I feel that as this issue grows, more and more folks will be rediscovering the Old Forest of Overton Park. And I guarantee you that any forest is best enjoyed without fences.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Chickasaw Bluff Fluff

My very own copy of the Memphis Zoo's member magazine, Exzooberance, arrived in the mail the other day, and I know y'all will enjoy reading President/CEO Dr. Chuck Brady's vision/revision of the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit. It's a two-page spread, even!

You've gotta love the juxtaposition of a grizzly, a hippo, and a chipmunk at the bottom of page two. Let's see: big creature that might kill you versus big dung-slinging creature that might kill you versus tiny inoffensive creature whose only hope of killing you is by human proxy.

But my favorite part is that Overton Park: In Perspective graphic. Notice how the Zoo's perspective obscures most of the Greensward and cuts off a large swath of forest in the northeast corner of Overton Park.

Art imitating life?

If you'd like to ground truth your own perspective on the Zoo's ongoing expansion into our Old Forest, come hike with CPOP tomorrow (Saturday, July 12) from 10:00-11:30am. We meet at the Lick Creek pedestrian bridge, adjacent to the Rainbow Lake parking lot at the east end of Old Forest Lane.

Please read the letter, I nailed it to your door

Yesterday, we mailed our response to last week's rejection letter. Click the image to biggify.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Branston...

Branston's Flyer column had another CPOP shout-out yesterday. I wonder if Chuck's next letter to us will be an invitation to join the board, as Branston suggests? I won't hold my breath...

Overton Park: Forty years ago, a coalition of old ladies in tennis shoes, lawyers, and environmentalists joined forces to stop the Federal Highway Administration from running Interstate 40 through Overton Park. Today the threats to the park are apathy and fear of violence.

The Memphis Zoo needs customers. It costs a family of four around $50 just for parking and admissions. No wonder the zoo's busiest day is not Saturday but Tuesday, when admission is free after 2 p.m. Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, formed 50 years ago, has reorganized to protect the Old Forest from zoo expansion. Not many Memphians, however, know about the Old Forest, and fewer walk through it. The city has grown away from Midtown, but fear isn't helping. As I finished a column last week about how attractive the park was on the Fourth of July, Memphis police were investigating a double shooting in the park's picnic area that afternoon.

Next step: The nonprofit Memphis Zoological Society should give board representation to Citizens to Preserve Overton Park and representatives of the Levitt Shell, which will probably need the zoo's parking lot for its upcoming concert series.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

News brief

John Branston of the Memphis Flyer wrote a nicely balanced commentary about the many amenities that Overton Park has to offer, and illustrated the story with one of my photos of Rainbow Lake. Hooray for Creative Commons!

If you look closely at the upper right quadrant, you can see a maintenance truck parked inside the Zoo's fence. Remember when the forest behind Rainbow Lake was a solid green wall? It wasn't that long ago.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bonus map!

This foldout map shows the final 1988 Overton Park Master Plan. You can click the image for a better view, or download the original (2MB file) for a stupendous view.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Rejection letter

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?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Bad fences make bad neighbors

While strolling my two-year-old daughter, Rosa, over to the East Parkway playground today, I looked across the Greensward and noticed a big patch of weirdly discolored foliage along the Memphis Zoo's fence line.

Since that's not normal for this time of year, I walked over to check it out and noticed a lot of freshly-scraped bare dirt inside the fence.

Roy did a post two months ago on the shape of things to come that's worth re-reading at this point. Go ahead, I'll wait...

Back to today's view of the Zoo's landscaping adjacent to Rainbow Lake, it looks like someone got busy with the RoundUp (another Project Habitat Award Site, maybe?) because they wanted to kill those poison ivy vines.

Okay, well... nobody loves itchy blisters, but even if you were never taught to avoid the leaves of three, it's unlikely that anyone would choose to snuggle up next to a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire that's located at least ten feet away from the Rainbow Lake walking path. Why bother killing the vines? I'm sure the many bird species who feed on poison ivy berries would have appreciated the nourishment later this year.

Rosa and I resumed our walk along the paved road that makes the Old Forest such a freely accessible place for everyone to visit, and soon heard a motor approaching.

That ATV was loaded down with Zoo employees (and their extensive collection of weed-whackers) who had obviously just finished clearing out the rifle sight lines along the perimeter of the Zoo's 17-acre Green Zone.

Why else would the Zoo need to maintain a 15- to 30-foot wide DMZ inside their fence line, killing the understory outright and causing fatal and irreversible damage to the root systems of all of the adjacent trees?

Then, I walked around the corner and noticed that the telephone pole that normally blocks motorized access to the interior park roads had been shoved aside.

And a minute later, two stonefaced dudes in Zoo-burgundy polo shirts blew past in their zippy little utility cart. We waved. They didn't even slow down as they left us in the dust.

Friday, July 4, 2008

It's been in our master plan for 20 years...

Finally, I found the time to scan the 50 pages of the 1988 Overton Park Master Plan. It's the perfect read for your holiday weekend. Action, romance, drama, comedy -- this plan has it all! Here's a glimpse at what's inside:

Download the Overton Park Master Plan (5MB file)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Your old road is rapidly aging

Wow, it's so exciting that we finally have our very own copy of the elusive 1988 Overton Park Master Plan!

I haven't had time to digitize it because I'm too busy stroking its silky-smooth pages and murmuring sweet nothings, but that'll happen ASAP so everyone can play along at home.

And even better, Stacey struck gold at Park Services last week when she was (accidentally) given visitation time with the 1986 Memphis Zoo Master Plan. This intriguing document does not exist if you ask Zoo president Charles Brady.

Confused? Let's review what we know.

The Memphis Zoo created a master plan in 1986, with pretty maps and big smart words and a coloring book and everything. That same year, the Memphis Park Commission decided to develop a 20-year master plan for Overton Park and hired Ritchie Smith & Associates. The Overton Park Master Plan was completed in April of 1988.

This plan expanded the Memphis Zoo from 36 to 70 acres.

Quite a few of the elements of this plan were modified or scrapped along the way. (After all, it wasn't written in stone.) The plan suggests, for example, that three acres of the abandoned I-40 corridor should be acquired by the City in order to provide a green "landscape buffer" between the Memphis Zoo and the adjoining neighborhood.

The City did acquire that land, but it became another Memphis Zoo parking lot. Here's what it looked like yesterday as Zoo Camp was letting out:

The leaders of the Memphis Zoo have repeatedly defended their decision to clearcut old-growth parkland for Teton Trek by saying "It's been in our master plan for 20 years" and suggesting that this info was readily available to the public.

Were they talking about the publicly approved 1988 Overton Park Master Plan or the internal 1986 Memphis Zoo Master Plan? Since nobody at the Memphis Zoo would admit that the latter plan even existed, we have to assume it's the former.

How exactly does the 1988 Overton Park Master Plan describe the Memphis Zoo's expansion plan? It delineates a forested area marked "Phase I" and "Phase II." That's it.

Because I've studied up on this topic, I can identify Phase I as the site of Northwest Passage and Teton Trek, while Phase II is the 17 acres we're trying to rescue.

But there's nothing in the 1988 Overton Park Master Plan about a Northwest Passage exhibit or a Teton Trek exhibit or a Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit or any damn clearcuts.

The 1988 Overton Park Master Plan is explicitly defined as a 20-year plan for the park, and those 20 years are up. In two decades the Memphis Zoo has managed to deforest half of its expansion area. It's time for a brand new plan.