Thursday, October 30, 2008

In the weeds

A few weeks ago, a man walking in Overton Park was attacked and injured by two teenagers. In response to this unfortunate incident, the president of Park Friends Inc., Glenn Cox, met with Park Services director Cindy Buchanan to ask her to "thin out" the understory of the forest along the jogging trail. CPOP was not invited to this meeting.

On Tuesday afternoon, Glenn emailed me to ask if CPOP would partner with PFI to clear invasive species along the jogging trail "in relation to the recent assault."

I emailed back:

I'm confused -- are you saying that the removal of invasive plant species will reduce crime at the park? I'm not sure how those two issues are related. Thanks for clarifying this.

Glenn replied:
Yes, in that it will open the space between the two paths in a key set of locations. The primary one being the eastern end of the park where honeysuckle has covered several small trees and privet hedge is dotted about.  As for making all areas totally visible, it would require the removal of much more than invasive species and we are not willing to make that move.  I would venture to guess that 90% of this space will not be touched.

So in the end, we systematically reduce the density in a couple secluded sections and simultaneously remove the forest of unwanted invasive species. Without the known opportunity to increase the physical presence of MPD, this seems the best option. It's sort of a flora version of the "broken window theory"...changing perceptions and showing that people do care when something wrong occurs.

This was starting to sound unpleasantly familiar. I discussed Glenn's emails with my fellow board members and we agreed that it was inappropriate to conflate the social issue of crime with the ecological issue of invasive plants.

On Wednesday, I replied:
Thanks for the info, Glenn.

For clarity's sake, I'm copying your board, the CPOP board, Tom Heineke, and Cindy Buchanan on this email.

I think all of us agree that the supervised removal of non-native invasive plant species, such as privet, is a positive thing for the health of Overton Park's forest.

It's laudable that PFI wishes to demonstrate public solidarity with the man who was recently attacked at the park. We understand that PFI met privately with Cindy last week to decide on a course of action and that you have already communicated your decision to the Memphis Flyer.

CPOP strongly disagrees with the idea that reducing plant density in the forest understory is a viable or desirable way to reduce crime. We ask you and your board to reconsider the assumptions that underly your proposal.

When you respond to a crime in the park with a proposal to clear understory in the forest -- even if that clearing is limited to privet and honeysuckle -- you are telling the public that the recent attack was the fault of the forest, because it provided a hiding place for criminals.

By that logic, we should also strip our city streets of any possible hiding places for would-be muggers -- parked cars, dumpsters, large trees, front porches, etc.

The central premise in your emails below is that the jogging trail is currently unsafe because it has "three or four areas" where the adjacent paved road is shielded from view by vegetation. This implies that you consider the Old Forest nature trails to be completely unsafe.

You say that your proposal to clear 10% of the plants along the jogging trail "does not go to the lengths many would like to see." Should we park advocates adopt the point of view of those who see no value in the preservation of the last surviving remnant of a 10,000-year-old forest? Isn't it our job, rather, to help people understand and value this forest for what it really is?

Public perception can create reality, for better or for worse. I've attached a photo of the jogging trail near the Rainbow Lake entrance. As you can see, there is a large amount of vegetation on either side of the trail -- primarily tall bellflowers in bloom. Is this a peaceful scene of natural beauty or just another hiding place for criminals?

CPOP would be happy to partner with PFI and Park Services on any future projects to remove privet and other invasive non-natives for the purpose of improving the ecological health of the forest. But we cannot support this particular project as long as it promotes the notion that park trails can only be "safe" if they're within sight of a paved road.

Thank you all for your consideration of our perspective.

We were hoping that PFI and Park Services would reconsider this ill-advised clearing project, but given their quotes in today's Memphis Flyer article on the topic, that seems unlikely.

As you can see, CPOP does not object to the careful removal of non-native invasive plants from the forest. But we do object to clearing forest understory in the name of crime prevention. We do not agree with the idea being promoted here: that "brush" and "weeds" are responsible for the bad behavior of people.

And when the president of PFI redefines native poison ivy as an invasive species, then says things like: "If it's just a weed, sorry, but so be it." -- well, that's just not cool with us.

When the only tool you have is a weedwhacker, everything looks like a weed.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Once more the quiet mystery

Sunday's hike was a much-needed break for me. What could be more relaxing than reconnecting with my beloved Old Forest while sharing it with others who've never walked its trails before?

We noticed the little things -- a rattan vine curling snake-like around an understory maple, both nourished by a decaying log.

We noticed the big things -- a craggy old tulip poplar silhouetted against the sky, wreathed in the brilliant fall colors of poison ivy and Virginia creeper.

And who could fail to notice a shattered treetop across the trail?

Don't worry, we'll cut a path through the debris soon. But, in the meantime, this treetop is silently teaching Old Forest visitors a small lesson on how to negotiate life's obstacles with grace.

Thanks to my friend and fellow CPOP board member Jimmy Ogle for the photographic evidence!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Upcoming Events

CPOP will be hosting a booth and selling our beautiful t-shirts at this Saturday's Forest Faire. Formerly held in the Vollintine-Evergreen Historic District, this event will offer presentations on choosing the right tree for the right place, tree planting, tree ID, vendors, children's activities, music, information on grants for neighborhoods, and tours of the only level 4 arboretum in West Tennessee. Admission is free. Bring a picnic basket! Rain or shine at Memphis Botanic Garden, 750 Cherry Road.

Presented in conjunction with National NeighborWoods month, sponsored in part by the Alliance for Community Trees and the Home Depot Foundation.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 26, 10:00am to 11:30am. Meet at the end of Old Forest Lane, next to the Rainbow Lake parking lot, for a free guided 1.5-mile walk through the Old Forest at Overton Park. Kids are welcome!

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 6:00pm-8:00pm. Meet at the East Parkway pavilion. CPOP will be leading the first ever night hike through the Old Forest in conjunction with the Park Friend's Hayride. Each hike will last about 20 minutes, and we will start a new hike every thirty minutes. Kids are welcome! Bring a flashlight!

The PFI Hayride is a family event that will take you on a mule drawn wagon along the road next to the Old Forest. There will also be a campfire where you can warm up with s'mores and hot chocolate. This event is also free.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Into the Green Cathedral

Grapevine Vaulting over the Old Forest

This past Saturday about 20 people joined CPOP on our regular Old Forest hike. A beautiful day, the temperatures were in the low 80s, and the bright sunlight bouncing off the canopy made a nice contrast with the rich shade we often walked through.

CPOP's board historian, Jimmy Ogle, began with a short talk on the history of Overton Park before Naomi led the group into the Forest.

Old Forest Hike

So that we didn't lose any newbies in the wild, I brought up the rear of the hike. Accompanied by my family's still leash-resistant border collie pup (our hikes and the Old Forest are very dog-friendly), I had lots of time to notice cool new details like
  • This tree trunk separated in 2 near its base,

    Split Tree

    with both trunks extending all the way up to the overstory.

    Split Tree

  • A magnolia in the center of the Forest (no photo). Naomi confirmed later that the magnolia is not a native species for Memphis; their native habitat is south of Memphis. However, it's not invasive so its presence isn't harmful.

  • The beautiful mesh ceiling of grapevines above the trail near the East Parkway entrance (see photo at top). Naomi pointed out that the Forest's native grapevines hitch rides on growing trees to the top of the canopy where they get the sunshine they need.
    Grape Vines
    However, unlike the invasive, non-native kudzu, the grapevines will not choke and kill their hosts.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Res ipsa loquitur

When my daughter and I visit the Memphis Zoo, which is often, I like to peruse the display boards in the Cat Country exhibit. If you read this blog regularly, you saw one of these Cat Country signs in August.

It's hard to find the words to describe how it feels to read these sweet, earnest, planet-loving messages (dating from way back in 1993, by the way) while my brain replays its grainy home movies of the infamous Teton Clearcut.

But I guess the images can speak for themselves.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Walk around heaven all day

Get outside and soak up this gorgeous weather! We'll be hiking the Old Forest nature trails this Saturday, October 11, 10am to 11:30am.

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

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

In the news...


Driven magazine - Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Remember a few years ago when Overton Park was threatened with an interstate cutting through the middle of it? From the mid-fifties through the eighties, a group of people called the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP) stopped it from happening, and they’re back again this year - newly incorporated - to protest as the Memphis Zoo begins development on new exhibits that will keep 17 acres of Overton Park behind a fence, accessible only to Zoo visitors.

The Memphis Zoo cleared four acres of forest in February, to the dismay of Naomi Van Tol, Stacey Greenberg, and Amy Stewart-Banbury, the founders of the new CPOP. The Chickasaw Bluffs Trail and Teton Trek developments will likely include the bulldozing of sections of the Old Forest, so named because of the ancient nature of the park. This Old Forest is thousands of years old and has never been farmed or developed. It’s home to hundreds of native plant species and animals, and is the center of this very heated debate. The CPOP wants the land fenced off by the Zoo to be returned to the public for free use as part of Overton Park, and the group is also working towards legal protection of the land for future generations.

“There are about 125 acres left, outside the Zoo's fence, and none of it is legally protected. This problem could be fixed with a conservation easement - a la Shelby Farms - or a Tennessee State Natural Area designation," Van Tol said. "Either way, we need to persuade the Memphis City Council that the Old Forest deserves legal protection."

Van Tol told us the 500-member strong group leads nature hikes through the Old Forest twice a month, which may explain the large number of supporters the CPOP has been able to gather in such a short period of time.

"Our nature hikes have introduced hundreds of people to the Old Forest trails," Van Tol said. "When people actually visit this forest, they realize how amazing and unique it is, and they gain a deeper understanding of why it needs to be protected for our grandchildren. The Old Forest is one of the last surviving remnants of our natural heritage. It's an incredible old growth ecosystem, right here in the center of town, and anyone can visit for free."

At the request of CPOP, Park Services is conducting a survey to document all the plant species of the Old Forest. CPOP hopes this survey will show what is being destroyed by the development of the parkland. Van Tol said no one from the Zoo has publicly supported the efforts of CPOP, but that she still hopes that Zoo leaders can be won over.

“We are certain that everyone who works at the Zoo understands why it's necessary to preserve old growth habitat, so we're hopeful that we can find common ground on that,” Van Tol said.

Visit for more information, or call Naomi Van Tol at 901-278-2396 or e-mail

Monday, October 6, 2008

Leave No Child Inside

A few months ago, CPOP supporter Elaine Blanchard wrote a lovely guest post about kids and nature that quoted from the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.

If you'd like to hear more about why parents should encourage their kids to play outdoors, author/journalist Richard Louv will be speaking at the Germantown Performing Arts Center at 7:00pm on October 21.

Perhaps you have a ravine behind your house, or a little woods at the end of the cul-de-sac. That is hugely important to children. Adults sometimes can't see the importance of it because they expect nature to be so much bigger, but to that child, that ravine is a universe. Paying attention to that -- protecting those little spaces in cities -- is a step in the right direction.

In older cities there's often more nature than we suspect. Can you imagine a city building Central Park today? They're still finding new species in Central Park. In newer cities, everything is over-manicured, over-controlled. What is a kid supposed to do? I'm just as concerned about kids growing up in those kinds of neighborhoods as I am about inner-city kids. [ Source ]