Monday, November 30, 2009

A walk with nature

Yesterday's nature hike is featured on page B1 of today's Commercial Appeal! We had a wonderful group who insisted on exploring the forest for nearly three hours. Special thanks to Mike Brown, the CA photographer, who stuck with us the whole time and got stellar photos.

Click the image to biggify.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Got forest?

Lately we've been lax about taking photos on our Old Forest nature hikes. Here's a psychedelic view of a hike we led for an adorable troop of Brownies in early November:

Our most recent hike drew more than 30 people, no doubt thanks to the gorgeous fall weather this month. Here's the crowd gathering at our meeting spot on the Lick Creek bridge:

Remember that we offer free guided nature walks at 10:00am on the second Saturday and last Sunday of every month, rain or shine. We discuss the history and botany of Overton Park as we explore the Old Forest trails. Kids are always welcome!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A kinder gentler mudpit?

Update: The City's latest proposal originally featured an earthen dam, but we are now informed that the dam would be made of textured concrete. We have corrected that info below.

Update #2: The Memphis Flyer reported on this topic on November 26.

Earlier this year, we worked with Park Friends Inc. and other Midtown groups to organize a citizen coalition to Save the Greensward from being turned into a stormwater detention pond by City of Memphis engineers.

City engineers had proposed digging an overflow channel for Lick Creek that would empty into a large pit in the middle of the Greensward. They said this was necessary to reduce flooding in Belleair Circle and the Memphis Zoo. The depth of the Greensward Mudpit would have ranged from 10 to 18 feet below the existing grade, like so:

Click to biggify.

[Note: This map is actually the second version of the "Lick Creek Reroute" plan. City engineers originally intended to dig up three acres of the Old Forest near Poplar Avenue for their detention basin. After the Teton Trek debacle, they figured another clearcut would be unpopular so they changed the location... and quickly discovered that the Greensward is also a much-beloved part of Overton Park.]

Due to the public outcry against this plan, the City's engineering staff officially rejected the Greensward Mudpit in June and said they would examine other options. They drew up a plan that involved digging up several holes of the Overton Park Golf Course, but decided that would be "too disruptive" to the park.

This brings us to the fourth and most current version of the City's plan:
Click to biggify.

This proposal does not require a pit in the Greensward. Instead, it requires an 8-foot-high textured-concrete dam along the north side of the Greensward that would back up water into the park whenever Lick Creek overflows its banks. This plan would also enlarge the undersized culverts beneath Poplar Avenue and possibly create a small detention basin at the seventh hole of the golf course.

After all this time, and all the money spent on planning, City engineers have still not provided the public with hard facts to justify the need for this project. They estimate it will cost $4 million to build, but they haven't bothered to explain why it's necessary in the first place.

For example, how many Belleair Circle homes have been flooded by Lick Creek? How often does the Memphis Zoo experience flood damage, and where does this occur? How much does flood damage cost the Zoo and Belleair Circle homeowners each year? None of these questions have been answered.

In addition, City engineers have not provided any facts to support their claim that sacrificing a portion of Overton Park is the only possible way to reduce flooding in the upper Lick Creek watershed. Why is our park the only target on the radar? Is it just because the land is publicly owned and can be used by the City for free?

City engineers told us that in a 100-year flood (a flood that has a 1-in-100 chance of happening in any given year) the existing flood level at the Rainbow Lake playground would be three feet higher if their dam is built. From our perspective this looks like a problem, not a solution.

Aside from the obvious safety hazards and damage to Overton Park, it's important to keep in mind that urban stormwater is not clean water. It contains a wide range of pollutants such as animal feces, oil and antifreeze from streets and parking lots, lawn chemicals, and silt from poorly managed construction sites. A major fish kill on Lick Creek this summer was caused by raw sewage pouring from a malfunctioning sewer line a half-mile upstream from Overton Park.

Is it okay to use Overton Park for stormwater storage? Does it make sense to treat heavily-used parkland as if it's vacant land? Is it good civic policy to sacrifice public amenities to private interests? What is the true value of Overton Park to our community? These questions should be taken seriously by City officials.

Why not focus on slowing or stopping stormwater runoff before it even gets to Lick Creek? Park Friends Inc's Martha Kelly recently (and wisely) pointed out that the Overton Square redevelopment offers a perfect opportunity to do just that.

Overton Square is five acres of asphalt, concrete and rooftops. Nearly all of the rain that falls on those five acres flows straight into Lick Creek. City officials could reverse that situation by requiring the new development to manage all of its stormwater on-site. This is just one example of the many proactive steps that City officials could take to reduce flooding in the Lick Creek watershed, if they chose. Instead they often choose to burden citizens with the hidden costs of new development.

For example, City engineering staff told us they did not require the Memphis Zoo to do any stormwater detention for the Teton Trek exhibit, even though the original exhibit plan included underground detention tanks. Why? Because "the mathematical model" said there would be no increase in flooding downstream.

When you convert an old growth forest (near-zero stormwater runoff) to a paved and roofed zoo exhibit (near-100% stormwater runoff) you need only consult your common sense to know that the extra water will increase flooding downstream. Sure, a single new development that lacks stormwater detention may not change things much. But five acres here, four acres there -- it adds up fast in a dense urban environment.

It works the other way too. Even acts as simple as strategic tree planting and landscaping are proven to drastically reduce stormwater runoff and improve water quality -- and that also adds up fast.

We don't need a mudpit in Overton Park. We don't need contaminated stormwater backing up into our old growth forest, our playground, and our Greensward. We need our civic leaders to recognize that we can (and should) improve our built environment without destroying the natural resources that birthed our city and nourish our spirits.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Consolation Prize

I've been corresponding with Brian Carter over at the Zoo regarding the backside of Teton Trek.

Dear Mr. Carter,

I visited Teton Trek a couple of weeks ago and thought that the forest backdrop was breathtaking. In fact, from most of the exhibit, you can't even tell that there is a road behind there. However, yesterday while hiking through the forest and walking down the road, I was very disappointed to see that the area behind the exhibit is extremely unattractive. (See attached photo.) It definitely ruins the feeling of "getting away from it all" that many people like myself seek out in the old forest.

Do you have plans to clean up this area and/or plant a tree screen? It would mean a lot to the surrounding neighborhoods and regular users of the forest.

Thanks for your quick response,
Stacey Greenberg
Citizens to Protect Overton Park

In response:

Hello Ms. Greenberg:

Thank you for your email. By early December, the Zoo will have completed all substantial construction on Teton Trek. Plantings and a new shade cloth along the Zoo's perimeter fence that faces the park road are a part of the outstanding projects and are scheduled to be completed by this date.


Brian Carter
Memphis Zoo

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

National recognition for Overton Park!

Now, this is awesome news: Overton Park was just selected by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) for their annual Landslide program.

Go here to read all about it!

TCLF established this program in 2002 "to focus attention on culturally significant landscapes at risk for alteration or destruction" and our park is one of 16 sites selected for Landslide 2009 from a field of nearly 100 sites nationwide.

We're grateful to the fine folks at TCLF for honoring Overton Park, and for the work they do to raise awareness of threatened public landscapes across the country!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Foliage on file

Foliage on file:
Overton Park plants catalogued for future
Monday, October 19, 2009 - Commercial Appeal
By Linda A. Moore

It took many trips to Overton Park to count them all, but Tom Heineke now knows that there are 332 plant varieties in the park's old-growth forest.

He didn't count mosses, but his year-long inventory includes all the trees, shrubs, flowers and probably a lot of what some would call weeds.

Photo by Dave Darnell

Heineke was hired by the city to inventory the forest and his report details its health, and how to protect and care for it.

"It's very healthy," he said. "It just needs some assistance in ridding it from these exotic species that are gradually covering the ground and the vegetation and in the process destroying the native species."

Non-natives, among them English Ivy, vinca minor (or creeping vinca), privet and monkey grass, are prevalent in the forest, some brought in via seeds by birds.

Others were planted there years ago when it was thought to be the right thing to do, Heineke believes.

Heineke also found a few surprises in the forest.

There were healthy stands of goldenseal and oceanblue phacelia, both on the Tennessee Natural Heritage rare plant list.

The plants aren't technically endangered yet, Heineke said.

"But they are on the list of rare plants that the state of Tennessee is watching," he said.

He's also measured several trees, including a black cherry tree that was 27 inches in diameter, a 46-inch Southern red oak, a 62-inch shumard oak and a nearly 9-inch pawpaw as possible Tennessee Champion Trees.

Under the Tennessee Department of Agriculture program to identify the largest specimens of native trees, a tree earns points based on its circumference, height and crown spread. The tree with the most points for its species is declared a champion.

Heineke was paid $2,400 for his year of work. He has a doctorate in plant taxonomy and plant ecology from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He worked for the Corps of Engineers for 10 years and for 16 years owned a wetlands consulting firm.

Parks services director Cindy Buchanan could not be reached for comment.

The idea to inventory the old growth forest was pitched to the city by CPOP (Citizens to Preserve Overton Park).

A comprehensive plant survey has never been done before, said CPOP co-founder Naomi Van Tol, who accompanied Heineke on many of his trips into the forest.

"The most important thing is it shows how unique and rare the forest is," Van Tol said.

Next, they hope to find a way to legally protect and preserve the forest.

For now, Heineke is suggesting that the city kill the evergreen, non-native plants.

Beyond that, his best advice is to simply leave the forest alone.

"Don't mess with it. Don't do any kind of maintenance other than getting rid of the invasive non-native species," he said. "When a tree falls, let it fall, unless it lays across a trail, and for the next 50 years let it turn back into the soil."

[For more on this topic, see the CA's article from last year.]

Monday, October 12, 2009


Cool air. No mosquitoes. Fall is a wonderful time to walk the Old Forest trails! A few images from Saturday's hike to inspire you...

Wild hydrangea hanging on.

Hollow branch with remains of a honeybee hive.

Arrow-leaved aster with pollinator.

Leaves turning to earth.

Virginia knotweed giving up the ghost.

Spicebush berries - crush and smell them!

Turkey tail lichen on a fallen tree.

Virginia creeper climbing a cherrybark oak.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Free the Old Forest 17

Thanks to the awesome business owners of Midtown, you can sign our petition to unfence the 17 acres at these convenient locations:

We are gathering signatures until November 15, so please spread the word! Our forest doesn't belong in a cage.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Exercise your right to petition

We, the undersigned, petition the Mayor of Memphis and the Memphis City Council to remove the fence that surrounds 17 acres of Overton Park’s old growth forest.

In 1988, the City Council designated 33 acres of Overton Park as an expansion area for the Memphis Zoo. In the past 21 years, the Zoo has developed 16 acres of that expansion area for new exhibits. All of this publicly owned parkland is inaccessible to citizens who cannot afford to pay the Zoo’s entry fees.

We believe the surviving 17 acres of old growth forest should be unfenced and returned to Overton Park for free public use by the citizens who own it. Please give it back.

We need your help! If you can volunteer a few hours to help circulate our petition, please email us at

Click the image to biggify and print, or download the PDF.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

We prefer sunshine

Today's Commercial Appeal has a large story about the opening of the Memphis Zoo's Teton Trek exhibit. The article repeats the idea that we objected to the clearcut because 139 trees were removed. It also repeats Zoo CEO/Prez Chuck Brady's claim that Teton Trek was part of the 1988 Overton Park Master Plan and was publicly known.

We'd like to set the record straight, once again, on those two misconceptions.

Firstly: The Zoo did cut 139 trees (give or take a few) whose trunks ranged from 10 inches to 42 inches in diameter. They also cut hundreds, if not thousands, of trees smaller than 10 inches in diameter. They bulldozed more than 200 different species of shrubs, vines and wildflowers, and displaced hundreds of native wildlife species. In short, they annihilated four acres of publicly-owned old growth forest in order to bury it under asphalt and fake rock.

And that's what we objected to.

Secondly: Last year we met with the Zoo and were told we had no right to be upset about the Teton Clearcut because it was in the 1988 Overton Park Master Plan for everyone to see. We asked for a copy of that plan and Chuck Brady said he did not have one. We asked Memphis Park Services for a copy; they couldn't find it. We tried the Memphis Public Library -- no dice.

We finally called the consultant who prepared the plan and he dug his last copy out of storage for us. We think it's fair to say this document was not publicly available.

As it turns out, the 1988 Overton Park Master Plan contains no reference to Teton Trek. It just shows a forest marked "Zoo II Expansion." If you want to see for yourself, you can download our scan, but good luck trying to find it anywhere else.

At our meeting last year, we also asked Chuck Brady for a copy of the Memphis Zoo's internal master plan. He told us the Zoo did not have a written master plan. A few weeks later, Memphis Park Services gave us a look at the Zoo's internal master plan (the one Chuck Brady said didn't exist) but they did it totally by accident. The Memphis Zoo says they are working on a new master plan now. Their current master plan is still not available to the public.

We won't go so far as to call the Teton Clearcut a secret plan -- we know that its details were quietly reviewed and approved by Memphis Park Services, the Office of Planning & Development, and several board members of Park Friends Inc. -- but it was not truly a public plan until the bulldozers hit the ground.

Even today, the Memphis Zoo's Teton Trek demolition plan is only available on our website. How's that for irony?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Free hugs for treehuggers

Don't forget to stop by CPOP's booth at the Cooper-Young Festival tomorrow -- Saturday, September 19, 9:00am to 7:00pm -- to sign our petition and claim your free hug. If you're not a hugger, we will also offer free fist-bumps and air-kisses.

Our booth will be near the north end of the festival, on the east side of Cooper between Elzey and Evelyn. We'll have plenty of our popular "Save the Old Forest" shirts, a limited edition of our new "Lorax Has a Posse" shirt, and free CPOP stickers for everyone!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

We say pawpaw, they say Paw Paw...

... let's call the whole thing Asimina triloba!

We just got a nice note from a Washington DC blog called The Natural Capital, thanking us for slapping a Creative Commons license on Old Forest photos like this one:
Pawpaw fruits

Their pawpaw post is very informative and also includes other, much better, photos of pawpaw trees and fruits. (They think the distinctive smell emitted by crushed pawpaw leaves is similar to kerosene, whereas we think it smells exactly like tomato plants, but otherwise they're spot on.)

And now we know that pawpaw fruits ripen a month later in DC than they do in Memphis. Local pawpaw fanatics -- you know who you are -- don't forget to exploit this intel as you plan future vacations!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Free the forest

As I ranted about previously, the Memphis Zoo released concept drawings in late July for their proposed 17-acre Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit, which would be located due south of the Teton Trek exhibit and due east of Rainbow Lake.

The leaders of the Memphis Zoo are inviting the public to comment on this proposed exhibit (a 180-degree policy shift that CPOP applauds and wants to encourage) so please take a minute to view the concept sketches and send 'em your opinion if you haven't done so already.

As you know, CPOP's position is that the 17 acres of publicly owned old growth forest should be unfenced and returned to Overton Park for free public use. This does not mean we think boardwalks are evil or that the Old Forest should be preserved in amber. On the contrary, we work hard to promote public use of Overton Park's existing forest trails through our free twice-monthly nature walks and other activities.

But given the Memphis Zoo's track record in the past year and a half -- clearcutting four acres of old growth forest for Teton Trek, clearing a 20-foot strip of forest understory around the perimeter of the 17 acres, and replacing two acres of forest understory with a mulched picnic area -- we have no evidence that the Zoo is capable of being a good steward of the Old Forest.

It is clear that the leaders of the Memphis Zoo place very little value on the ecological integrity of the Old Forest. They see nothing wrong with annihilating the understory (which contains 80% of the forest's plant species) and last year they refused to allow access to the 17 acres for the botanical survey that was commissioned by Park Services. They don't even want to know what they're destroying.

CPOP would love to believe that the Memphis Zoo will do better in the future. However, the leaders of the Zoo have never apologized or shown the slightest public regret for their many hypocritical actions, so we can only assume they will continue to treat the Old Forest like toilet paper.

And that's why we still say: DOWN WITH FENCE.

If you agree that our public parkland should be unfenced, we have a petition you'll want to sign. Please stop by CPOP's booth at the Cooper-Young Festival this Saturday, September 19, 9:00am to 7:00pm, on the east side of Cooper between Elzey and Evelyn. We'll also have plenty of shirts, stickers, and free hugs for treehuggers!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Old Forest Hike -- In Moving Pictures!

Okay, so it doesn't actually have much footage from last week's hike. But it does convey the beautiful peace of the Old Forest.

To quote Ed Wood, "my next one will be better."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Clueless about the ecosystem

Letters to the Editor
Thursday, September 3, 2009 - The Commercial Appeal
Clueless about the ecosystem

Given the worldwide awareness of the importance of the ecosystem and the incredibly parochial attitudes of U.S. citizens, I'm not surprised that the Memphis Zoo got away with the disgraceful clear-cutting and total lack of responsive planning with regard to Teton Trek. However, I will campaign as much as I can, as will many of the homeowners in the area of Overton Park, against the egregious and continual erosion of the Old Forest ecosystem by zoo leadership.

The zoo's plans do not demonstrate a conscious awareness of the plant species in the understory of the trees.

It is unclear why the zoo does not renovate its shabby and decaying older zoo areas, while expanding, like a behemoth, into the Old Forest.

Tina Barr

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dozing at the wheel

Last October, CPOP had a major difference of opinion with Park Friends Inc. and City of Memphis Park Services about whether the understory of the Old Forest should be "thinned out" along the internal park roads. You can review that saga here if you wish.

In particular, PFI proposed removing the understory of the dogwood triangle on the north side of the forest, next to the fenced-off 17 acres. Park Services used to mow the understory of the dogwood triangle but quit doing that some years ago. We thought this was a win-win for everyone, saving taxpayer dollars and allowing the regeneration of native plants. And it looked pretty, too.

North side of dogwood triangle, November 2008

South side of dogwood triangle, April 2009

We opposed PFI's proposal and argued that any understory removal in the Old Forest should be limited to non-native invasive species. PFI and Park Services scaled back their plans and just removed some non-native privet along the park's gravel jogging trail, so we figured the issue was happily resolved.

But guess what? Late last week, Park Services removed a significant portion of the understory of the dogwood triangle. There's now a bulldozed swath of scraped earth, ranging from 10 to 20 feet wide, along the perimeter of the triangle. We do appreciate the routine maintenance done by Park Services to keep park roads clear of fallen trees, but this is not routine.
Bulldozer (back left) included for scale

Jimmy Ogle (back right) included for scale

We talked with the bulldozer operator and the head of maintenance for Park Services on Friday, and they both said the work was requested by PFI. We talked with the new president of PFI, Martha Kelly, who said she absolutely did not request any bulldozing but did tell Park Services that the dogwood triangle might need a little thinning.

This incident shows a disturbing lack of concern for the ecological value of the Old Forest. Nearly all of the plants that Park Services bulldozed on Friday were native species, including dozens of 15-foot-tall tulip poplar saplings that were shooting up like rockets and are now lying in a broken heap.

If those tulip poplars had been bought from a nursery and planted in the park with neat little mulch rings around each one, everyone would have been horrified to see them bulldozed. At a conservative estimate of $200 per tree and three dozen saplings destroyed, Park Services just wasted $7,200 worth of trees that Mother Nature planted for free.

Several of the ancient 12-inch-diameter dogwoods had their surface roots scraped away in a circle around their trunks, like a mulch ring in reverse, which will make it hard for them to survive the winter. It's not clear what Park Services was trying to accomplish here, but they have certainly succeeded in destroying a large number of native trees and uglifying the dogwood triangle.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


In celebration of this gorgeous summer weather, we're adding an impromptu hike to our regular schedule. Join CPOP at 10am tomorrow, Sunday, August 23, for a guided nature walk in the old growth forest of Overton Park.

As always, we meet on the Lick Creek bridge at the east end of Old Forest Lane, next to the Rainbow Lake parking lot. We cover a leisurely 1.5 miles on dirt trails. Kids are very welcome. Email Naomi if you need more info!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ooooh, that smell...

Sorry for the belated media mention, but if you're wondering why Lick Creek has been looking and smelling super-funky lately (and not in a good way) please check out this article from last week's Memphis Flyer.

The City of Memphis says the CBU detention basin is no longer discharging silt or sewage into Lenox Bayou, and that the Lick Creek sewage bypass at Florence and Diana was fixed on Monday, but neighbors along the lower reaches of Lick Creek say it still smells bad despite the heavy rains we had last night.

If you notice water quality problems in Lenox Bayou or Lick Creek -- if the water changes color, smells "chemical" in any way, or you see dead fish -- please contact Terry Templeton, head of Water Pollution Control at our local TDEC office. His email is and his phone is 901-368-7959.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Zoo Made Circus of Teton Exhibit

Letters to the Editor
Saturday, August 1, 2009 - The Memphis News

Click the image to biggify.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

First contact

Our favorite Memphis Zoo spokesmodel sent an email Friday afternoon to tell us about the Zoo's concept drawings for the proposed Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit. This marked the very first time the Zoo has initiated contact with CPOP, ever, so you can imagine how excited everyone was. I'm thinking of framing it!

From: Brian Carter,
Subject: Chickasaw Bluffs Artist Concepts
Date: July 24, 2009 4:06:05 PM CDT
To: Naomi Van Tol,

Ms. Van Tol:

The Zoo has just posted some artist concepts for the Chickasaw Bluffs trail on our Web site. These are not finished architectural plans. Instead, these drawings are meant to illustrate the intent of the trail and share the Zoo's vision with our community.

Please share this link with others. We've still got a lot of work to do with the results from the GIS tree survey to provide a much more detailed scope of the project, but we wanted to send out materials as we had them available.

Thank you,

Brian Carter
Memphis Zoo

Adding to the excitement, the Zoo's President/CEO/Emperor Chuck Brady answered a few questions about the proposed Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit in last week's Memphis News and acknowledged that "public concern" has persuaded the Zoo to "go very carefully in step-wise fashion and then get input."

This would be a HUGE paradigm shift for the Memphis Zoo. Last year when the Zoo clearcut four acres of old-growth forest to build Teton Trek, they didn't ask for public input on their plan. They just fired up the bulldozers and did it.

We hope the Zoo's leaders have learned from their past mistakes and changed their ways, but we're not convinced yet. There's a vital element missing from their concept drawings for the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit.

Where'd our forest understory go? No festooning grapevines? No celandine poppies or mayapples? No lush layers of wild ginger, knotweed, snakeroot, hydrangea, spicebush, hazelnut and pawpaw? No fungus-covered fallen logs?

Is that... mulch?

Sure, these are just concept drawings. But given the fact that the Zoo has been steadily mowing and chainsawing and scraping the understory of the Old Forest down to bare dirt (a few examples here, here, here, and most recently here) we think it's a disturbing omission.

It's even more disturbing when you consider the fact that the Memphis Zoo refused to allow botanist Tom Heineke to include the 17 fenced acres in the year-long Old Forest plant survey that was commissioned last summer by Memphis Park Services.

Earlier this year, we asked the Memphis Zoo why they didn't want a renowned PhD botanist to survey the 17 acres at no cost to them. They said they were already doing an in-house plant survey. Um, okay...

But we recently asked a few more questions and discovered that the Zoo's plant survey only includes trees and invasive non-native species. In other words, the Zoo's plant survey does not include any of the native understory species that make up the vast majority of the Old Forest's plant life.

How many times must we repeat that our forest is not defined by its trees alone?

Yes, it is truly amazing that the Old Forest contains many individual trees that were alive before the City of Memphis was founded. But isn't it also amazing that those trees are rooted in nine vertical feet of loam, built up over the past 10,000 years? And that this rich soil also supports several hundred species of wildflowers, shrubs, and other small plants?

The Memphis Zoo's website says the proposed boardwalk trail will "bring more people into the forest while preserving its native plants and ecosystem" and "educate our community of [sic] the forest's history and awe-inspiring beauty."

If the Zoo's leaders really want to preserve native plants and educate our community about them, why did they refuse to include the 17 acres in the Old Forest plant survey? Do they intend to hire a botanist to do a separate survey of "their" understory? Or do they still think big trees are the only plants that matter?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gaps and Grapes

We will usually tell you on our Old Forest hikes that you should keep hiking because the seasons' flow changes the Forest so much. What you see this month will almost certainly look much different next month and incredibly different 6 months from now.

Sometimes the changes aren't by season or human. The huge storm that passed over Memphis on June 12, 2009, knocked down a few trees and changed the feel of their spots in the Forest. Crowns fell, understory was squashed and lots of direct sun and skylight appeared on the floor at angles and intensities not seen before at those spots.

Here are the broken edges of a couple of trees that left a hole when they broke.

2 Broken Trees and the new Canopy Gap

2 Broken Trees and the new Canopy Gap

With the crashing came their payloads, the beautiful vines that hang from and cling to the great trees of the Old Forest.

Dead Tree and Live Grape Vine

I've always loved these vines. But it's only recently that I found out that most of the hangers are grapevines*, which is very cool.


They wrap themselves around the growing trees and hitch a ride to the top of the canopy for the sunlight that their grapes need. For that reason (and because fast-moving, vertically-advantaged wild'uns eat them quick) you don't see the actual grapes much on the Forest floor.

However, when the tops off of a few great trees came down during the storm, their grape payloads came with them. On this month's "Second Saturday" nature hike I saw my first Overton Park grapes.

Grapes in the Old Forest

*the clingers are usually poison ivy, which is also very cool if you're a bird that likes their berries or a human that keeps a healthy distance.

Midsummer is prime time for grapes. Join one of our regular hikes if you want a closer look. And a taste, if you're lucky!

Our next hike is tomorrow morning: Sunday, July 26. We meet at 10:00am on the Lick Creek bridge next to the Rainbow Lake parking lot.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The machine and the damage done

Remember back in March, when the City of Memphis engineering staff consulted their Magic 8-Ball and announced that an 18-foot-deep stormwater detention basin would be the perfect fit for Overton Park's historic Greensward? The Memphis Zoo was okay with this plan once the City engineers proved there'd still be enough space for the Zoo's overflow parking.

But most of the people who actually like Overton Park quickly agreed that the City's detention basin concept was flat-out insane, and a fervent grassroots coalition got together to Save the Greensward.

Round about the same time, the Memphis Zoo chose to convert several acres of the irreplaceable understory of Overton Park's old-growth forest into a mulched and sodded picnic area. As CPOP documented, the Memphis Zoo broke the law by failing to apply for the stormwater construction permit that every other land-clearing operation (larger than one acre) is legally required to obtain.

We met with the City of Memphis and Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) and asked that the law be fairly applied, but, given the end result, we have to say that the Memphis Zoo got a free pass from the City and TDEC in this case.

Now fast forward to today. If you enjoy visiting Overton Park and/or live in the Lenox, East End, or Vollentine-Evergreen neighborhoods, you've probably noticed that Lenox Bayou and Lick Creek have been mud-choked and nasty-smelling for the past month or so. Why?

Because the fine engineers of the City of Memphis are digging a stormwater detention basin on the campus of Christian Brothers University, near the top of the Lenox Bayou watershed, and they are making almost no attempt (as of today) to comply with the applicable local and State laws regarding erosion control on construction sites.

And guess what? This happens to be the very same 8-foot-deep detention basin that City Engineering chief Wain Gaskins cited as a shining example when he claimed that Overton Park visitors wouldn't even notice an 18-foot-deep basin in the Greensward.

For the past month, the City's stormwater inspectors have ignored citizen complaints about the huge amounts of mud and other pollutants that are being discharged into Lenox Bayou and Lick Creek from this City construction project.

The Memphis Zoo and the City's engineering division both seem to enjoy operating above the law when it comes to stormwater regulations. We think it's time for everyone to come back down to earth.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Take the lively air

Yesterday was a great day to wander the shady paths of the Old Forest. You could have fried eggs on the asphalt parking lot, but, as always, the forest air was many degrees cooler.

Thanks, trees!

The leaf litter on the forest floor is dry this time of year, amplifying the rustling activity of the small creatures around us. We saw broadhead skinks and five-lined skinks, both of which are harmless to humans but murder on beetles and other insects. And too fast for us to photograph.

The spring wildflowers have all faded but the summer wildflowers are taking their place. We saw plenty of tall bellflowers.

Many of the plants in the understory are fruiting, including pokeberries:

Red buckeyes:

And our favorite edible Old Forest treat, pawpaws!

If you visit the Old Forest in late August, you'll get the chance to sample this yummy native fruit and smell the intense fragrance of thousands of ripe pawpaws.

We offer guided nature walks at 10am on the second Saturday and last Sunday of every month (rain or shine, hot or cold) so mark your calendar and tell your friends!

Friday, June 12, 2009

National Get Outdoors Day!

Join CPOP for a free guided nature ramble tomorrow morning -- 10am, Saturday, June 13 -- through the amazing Old Forest of Overton Park. We meet next to the Rainbow Lake parking lot at the east end of Old Forest Lane.

It looks like we can expect muddy trails and a smattering of storm debris, but that's part of the fun! As always, kids are welcome no matter how old they are.

If you can't join us, please observe National Get Outdoors Day by gettin' outdoors to the very best of your ability!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Greensward is Safe!

Tonight I attended a meeting to discuss the future of the Greensward in Overton Park. Hugh Teaford, an engineer with the City, started the meeting off by handing Martha Kelly, of Park Friends, this letter:

The rest of the meeting was spent discussing alternate plans to reduce flooding in Midtown. In attendance were several neighborhood reps, Jim Jalenak from the Zoo's board, Cindy Buchanan from Parks, a landscape architect, a whole slew of engineers, and me. Looks like the new plan will be much more amenable to park users. There's some research to be done and in a month or so we should know which direction the City is going to go. For now they are looking at the box culverts along Lick Creek, parts of the golf course, and the underbelly of Poplar Avenue.

It was really nice to see so many groups working together to find a solution that works for everyone.

Stay tuned!

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Zoo Does Not Wish to Seek a Petition for an Easement"

The Memphis Zoo's Brian Carter sent a reply to my earlier letter:

A few things:

  • I know the Zoo doesn't want the exact same for the 17 acres as CPOP does. If I believed that I would have asked them to take down the Fence. I know they want to keep the Fence.

    What I thought possible, based on Carter's original statement that they wanted the same things, is that the Zoo might want to protect the Old Forest in their 17 acres, even if it's still fenced up. A conservation easement would do that, without unlocking the fence, without stopping a boardwalk. In fact, they have said repeatedly said that they plan to use "the boardwalk at the William B. Clark Conservation Area in Rossville, TN as an initial concept." It's possible, so why not do it?

  • It is very true "that the primary purpose of a conservation easement is to prevent land from certain forms of uses." Uses like these:

    Understory Rampage

    Exactly the kind of uses we hope an easement will prevent.

  • Whether "the fence that was removed" was permanent or temporary is beside the point. When it came down, they started dumping things on top of plants and knocking trees over.
  • I can assure everyone that CPOP will not send an Old Forest conservation easement petition to the Zoo's Marketing Department* for vetting (!!!). We will send it to the directors of the Memphis Zoological Society and the members of the Memphis City Council.

    Or perhaps, rather than our sending it to them, their sending it to us, ad nauseum, how about the Zoo working with CPOP and other stakeholders to create the easement?
* Does this mean that the Zoo's Conservation Department now reports to the Zoo's Marketing Department? Treating conservation as a marketing function goes to the root of their problem.