Monday, September 29, 2008

History Hike

The very enthusiastic, super smart & sweet Jimmy Ogle graciously shared some of his knowledge of Overton Park with a group of us on Sunday morning. Yes, he brought an easle and maps! We all really enjoyed hearing Jimmy's stories and learning more about the park.

We had absolutely gorgeous weather, a number of new faces, and (as usual) lots of fascinating discoveries along our 1.5 mile hike. My new friend Jimmy, after only a few seconds in our company, said, "I'm already glad I came."

I replied, "Awesome, now come every week because it is always changing in here."

Not two seconds later, Naomi who was several yards away at the front of the pack said, "Everytime you come to the Old Forest, you see something new.

Great minds think a like, I suppose.

For the next hour we shook paw paws from trees, marveled at the woodpecker graffiti on a PFI trail marker, studied numerous vines, squeezed spice bush berries to smell their lemony goodness, stared up at the sun peeking through the gorgeous many-leafed canopy, crushed polk berries to see their iridescent stain, and so on. Just another day in paradise!

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The trees they do grow high

Join us this Sunday, September 28, 10am to 11:30am, as we hike the Old Forest with CPOP board member Jimmy Ogle.

Our nature trails lack the manhole covers that Jimmy favors, but he's promised to bring historical photos and fascinating facts about the human history of Overton Park.

We'll cover about 1.5 miles at a leisurely pace. Meet at the east end of Old Forest Lane, next to the Rainbow Lake parking area. Kids are welcome, as always.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Calling all shutterbugs

Here's a press release for all you Overton Park photographers...

Mayor A C Wharton’s Sustainable Shelby is looking for digital photographs to advance the Sustainable Shelby initiative and be used in our upcoming Implementation Plan and website. We need your help to capture images that will help us illustrate the importance of sustainability for the future of our community - the things and places that you love about Memphis and Shelby County. We are especially interested in "active" photographs that include not only local places but local people as well.

If you’re an amateur or professional photographer, this is a great way to get your photography published and contribute to this important initiative at the same time. We will of course credit your photo in the Sustainable Shelby plan and on the website.

We'd prefer higher resolution digital color photos, but we will gladly accept any original digital image that you would like to contribute. Please send digital photographs to and include a brief written description of the photo and let us know where and when it was taken. Please submit your photos anytime between now and October 8, 2008. There is no limit to the number of photographs that can be submitted per person.

Thank you in advance for your help with this exciting project!

Photographs could include:

- Local example of natural features or scenic beauty
- Photographs of parks and recreational activities
- “Old Growth” forest in Overton Park
- Photographs of a great public place or urban environment
- Active downtown streetscape
- Downtown Trolley
- Your favorite place to walk, run, or ride your bike
- Neighborhood park with people
- Beale Street
- Memphis Riverfront and Riverboats
- Mud Island
- Harbor Town
- People using the Wolf River Greenway or VECA Greenline
- Community Gardens or neighborhood association activities
- Neighborhood commercial districts
- Historic districts or significant buildings
- Neighborhood clean up activities
- Examples of Public Art
- Local Farmers Market
- Favorite neighborhoods
- Or anything else that you love about Memphis and Shelby County!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More pix from Cooper Young...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cooper-Young Recap

CPOP spent this past Saturday at the 21st annual and ever fun Cooper-Young Festival. All of our board members pulled shifts in the booth: Amy and me in the morning; Naomi, Greg and Jimmy in the early afternoon; Stacey and Lenore until Festival end.

CPOP booth and CY Fest (Frank the Wandering Oak in foreground)
We were awed by the reception the Old Forest received from Festival-goers. With incredibly few exceptions, the Old Forest received love and support from those who stopped by. And many, many stopped by. We were in the far southwest edge of the Festival, near Blythe and Walker, but we had a great corner booth. It was an ideal location to tell folks about the Old Forest, answer their questions, sign them up for our mailing list, invite them on our twice-monthly hikes, hand out our stickers, and sell CPOP's brand new t-shirts.

In fact, the t-shirts were so popular, thanks to the beautiful design by Warren, Stacey and Naomi, that we ran out of the adult sizes before 2 p.m. and ended up selling all but 3 before the Festival closed at 7 p.m. We'll soon have a store up for anyone who wants to purchase a size that wasn't available.

Raising the money was good but it's better still to see "Save the Old Forest" all over Memphis (and beyond) on 100+ t-shirts and countless stickers.

Thanks to everyone who paused to ask questions, sign-up, donate, and buy t-shirts. If you're new to our cause, bookmark this site, then visit the Old Forest.

white oak on northeast trail

Friday, September 12, 2008


Y'all come on down to the fabulous Cooper Young Festival tomorrow (Saturday, September 13) and visit with CPOP. Our booth number is D-31, in the parking lot south of First Congo. The festival opens at 9am and shuts down at 7pm.

We'll have plenty of stickers to give away, we'll have postcards for your City Council reps, and any donation of $10 gets you one of our brand-spanking-new CPOP shirts!

These are 100% organic cotton shirts. We have two colors (earth brown and forest green) in these unisex sizes: Youth Extra Small, Youth Small, Youth Large, Adult Small, Adult Medium, Adult Large, and Adult Extra Large.

If you want a shirt but can't attend Cooper Young, just email us and we'll figure it out.

And if you're in the mood for a walk in the woods, don't forget that we hike the Old Forest tomorrow morning at 10am. Meet at the east end of Old Forest Lane next to the Rainbow Lake parking area. As always, kiddos are welcome.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


The online version of today's CA article includes an opinion poll in the sidebar:


- It should be left alone and returned to Overton Park
- Integrated into the zoo's future plans, but left intact
- Let the zoo do whatever it wants

Don't forget to cast your vote.

UPDATE - Here are the Commercial Appeal poll results as of Friday morning, September 12.

It looks like the poll is still open so click on through if you haven't voted yet.


Plant expert helps inventory Overton Park woods
Tuesday, September 9, 2008 - Commercial Appeal
Page A1

By Linda Moore

After only a few steps into the old- growth forest at Overton Park, Tom Heineke stops at a tulip poplar.

It's old, possibly 100 to 175 years. But he can't be sure without further study.

Tom Heineke, plant ecologist and taxonomist, is listing plants, such as a rattan vine coiling around a tree, in Overton Park. He said some are over 300 years old. "It's a representation of something that doesn't exist anymore. So it's extremely valuable in that aspect alone."

Moving deeper into the forest, where it's at least 10 degrees cooler, he points to other plants: Virginia knotweed, sea oats, and of course, poison ivy.

For the next year Heineke will be spending lots of time in the 150-acre forest.

He's been hired by the Memphis Park Services division to conduct a complete inventory of the trees and plants there.

At the northeast corner of Overton Park, the old-growth forest has been at the center of recent controversy as protesters accuse the Memphis Zoo of encroachment.

The zoo was given 30 acres of forest 20 years ago but recently drew fire from Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP) after clearing trees to build the Teton Trek exhibit. CPOP also wants the remaining 17 acres, which the zoo plans to use for the Chickasaw Bluffs forest exhibit, returned.

It's because of that commotion that the city brought in Heineke to see exactly what's growing in the woods.

"I was amazed at the size of the trees and at the plant species diversity," Heineke said after his first foray into the forest. "I knew there were large trees in Overton Park, but I was really expecting a lot more non-native invasives. What I saw at first cut was an assemblage of plant species."

The tree list is extensive, including black oak, shumard oak, white ash, green ash, musclewood and bitternut hickory.

Some trees could be at least 300 years old or older, and it's evident from their natural placement that the forest has grown undisturbed on land that has not been cleared or farmed, Heineke said.

"It's a representation of something that doesn't exist anymore. So it's extremely valuable in that aspect alone," he said.

Growing in the shade of those trees was spice bush, a native rattan vine that's rock hard, hound's tongue, the red leaves of beefsteak plant, fragrant sassafras and the rich golden blossoms of jewel weed.

There was a pawpaw patch (Remember the children's song?) with edible green, egg-shaped fruit. And there is snakeroot. (Abraham Lincoln's mother died after drinking milk from a cow that had eaten snakeroot.)

Even in that native environment, a few non-natives have found a home, including privet and random stands of monkey grass, their seeds dropped by birds, Heineke said.

He also spotted a thriving non-native Southern magnolia. The tree's natural habitat is in southeastern Texas, the lower parts of Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and in Florida.

Heineke has a doctorate in plant taxonomy and plant ecology from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. For 16 years he owned a wetlands consulting firm and worked for 10 years for the Corps of Engineers.

The city is paying him $2,400 for the year's work.

"It's going to be a weekly job throughout the year," said Cindy Buchanan, director of park services. "Then he'll be able to give us a definitive answer on what's exactly in there, native and invasive."

Armed with that information, the city will then be able to formulate a plan to maintain and protect the forest, to make it a sustainable ecosystem, and find ways to encourage more people to enjoy it, she said.

"I think it's going to be a really good place to start," said Buchanan, who joined Heineke on the first survey.

The walk in the woods was led by Naomi Van Tol, co-founder of CPOP, which regularly offers guided tours into the forest.

Van Tol is thrilled that it was at their suggestion that Buchanan decided to have the survey done.

"A complete botanical survey of the old forest has never been done before, and this is a necessary step toward long-term preservation," Van Tol said. "This survey will give everyone a better understanding of why this old-growth forest deserves our protection."

A less-detailed survey was done about 20 years ago, Buchanan said. But, in light of the recent attention the forest has received, this seemed like an opportune time for another one.

"Now that everything's out, let's focus on what we can do and how we can make the forest we have better," Buchanan said.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Friendly Forest

Since we hadn't heard a response to our request to tour the 17 acres with President Chuck Brady, I followed up with a phone call the week before Labor Day. The next day Mr. Brady called me back.

This is my letter to Mr. Brady summarizing our conversation (click to embiggen)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Foresty Goodness

On Sunday morning, Team Oster set out for the Old Forest. We decided to hike in the northeast section of the woods that is less traveled (and unmapped) since we hadn't been there in awhile. I was worried that it was going to be super overgrown, but someone had actually come through with a weedeater and cleared the trails. (Park Services or Park Friends?)

Right away we started finding cool stuff--feathers, cocoons, spiders, cicadas, cicada shells, paw paws, and mushrooms galore. What was most notable to me is that Jiro was really enjoying himself and participating. He is becoming quite the nature boy! (He's always come along on our hikes, but I can tell he's counting the minutes until he's either on the playground or back home in front of the TV.)

A few weeks ago when we saw a bunch of fireflies on one of our hikes, Jiro got really excited. That was the first time I ever saw him actually try and catch a bug. (Unlike Satchel who is always catching something.) Sunday Jiro was busy picking up acorns, pointing out Daddy Longlegs, etc. He was really into it and didn't ask to be carried or make a single complaint.

It made me very happy.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Out of the Woods (LTEs)

Letters to the Editor
Thursday, September 4, 2008 - Memphis Flyer
Out of the Woods

I liked your article on the controversial zoo expansion ("Out of the Woods," August 14th issue). I wish you had mentioned the Memphis City Council's recent discussion of the zoo's expired 20-year master plan. Councilwoman Ware said something to the effect that the city will be the laughingstock of the nation if the Memphis Zoo is not allowed to expand and cut down forest in the name of progress.

I disagree. The Teton Trek clear-cutting is a shocker because most of the rest of the country has moved forward environmentally. The old zoo master plan was written before the end of the Cold War, the Internet, ozone holes, global warming, environmental degradation, and habitat loss. Have we in Memphis not learned? Do lessons apply to Brazil but not to Memphis? Does a "world-class zoo" official need to act like a third-world cattle rancher?

The 17-acre Chickasaw Trail is a racket. Is nobody noticing the scam? In Memphis, progress is FedEx runways to fit the A-380. When it comes to environmental issues, this city's slow bus has not reached the 21st century. Freeways through the Amazon isn't progress, Mrs. Ware. It's apathy, indifference, and hypocrisy that will make us the laughingstock of the nation — and squandering a national treasure like a primal forest.

DaKoda Davis

Your article about the zoo was informative but a bit tame. Would you people at the Flyer please put your teeth in when you touch controversy!? Why do you quote spokespeople and not the man, Memphis Zoo CEO Chuck Brady, who's ultimately responsible for making dubious decisions? Why does a zoo have a spokesperson anyway? Don't try to approach the director of the Memphis Zoo. An audience with the pope might be easier.

Spin-meisters are important when one has to sell forest clear-cutting, I understand. One should hire many of them and hope they answer the phone. The pesky tree-huggers (the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park) aren't nut cases — just mothers and fathers pointing out that somebody has done wrong and they don't trust the director with any plans for another 17 acres of previously unmolested ancient forest.

Sure, the zoo website promptly promised an adorable nature walk on stilts for disadvantaged inner-city kids, but that stilt shtick is nothing more than the sly fox volunteering to guard the henhouse. How much financial damage and how much foregone goodwill is a nonprofit institution willing to accept when a CEO has managed to anger and divide a city with poor management choices?

Bernhard Meck

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A ship with crowding sails of green

Y'all, this is beyond awesome -- a comprehensive botanical survey is now underway at Overton Park!

The City of Memphis recently hired Tom Heineke, a local plant ecologist, to survey the plant species of the Old Forest during the next 12 months. We're very grateful to Park Services director Cindy Buchanan for making this happen.

Tom has a PhD in botany and many years of field experience. He's also a hell of a nice guy who graciously let me and Rosa tag along on the trails for three hours this morning. Tom's list of Old Forest plants has already topped 150 species and he's barely broken a sweat.
I never did get a clear photo of Tom, partly because the light was dim, and partly because he never stops moving.
Did you know that our little forest has at least six different species of native grape vine? Did you know we have hawthorn and hazelnut trees in the understory? Did you know there's more than one kind of native dogwood?

Today we found a beautiful cluster of four fern species growing within a few feet of each other: Christmas fern, sensitive fern, ebony spleenwort, and lady fern.
Every time I walk the trails of the Old Forest, I'm amazed all over again by the rich diversity of life that surrounds me. How often do you get the chance to feel that kind of wonder?

I remember feeling this way,
You can lose it without knowing,
You wake up and you don't notice
Which way the wind is blowing.
-Tom Petty