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?


Hollaway414 said...

Teton Park looks great! I love the zoo and the park. You two need to figure out how to get along.

Naomi Van Tol said...

Sure, we would love to try hugging it out with Zoo leaders!

We met with the Zoo in early 2008 and shared our concerns. We asked for a followup meeting to talk about the proposed Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit and Chuck Brady verbally agreed, then backed out.

The Zoo's current position is that they won't meet with CPOP until after their plan for the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit is completed. That doesn't leave a lot of middle ground to work with, does it?

Memphis deserves to have great parks AND a great zoo. It would be nice if Zoo leaders agreed with that, too. Chuck Brady told us last year that the Zoo is the only reason anyone comes to Overton Park.

We'd be happy to sit down and talk with anyone from the Zoo, or better yet, go for a walk together in our 10,000-year-old forest to show them why we think it's worth protecting. So far, they're not interested.