Thursday, September 15, 2011

CPOP @ Cooper-Young Fest

Don't forget to visit our booth at the fabulous Cooper-Young Festival this Saturday, September 17, from 9am-7pm. We'll be on the west side of Cooper near Felix.

You can pick up a free sticker and help us celebrate the Old Forest State Natural Area by hugging the Old Forest Lorax. If you need our reprint of the 1960s CPOP tee -- as worn by the "little old ladies in tennis shoes" who defended Midtown from Interstate 40 -- we've got you covered.

THANK YOU for supporting CPOP and making the Old Forest State Natural Area happen. There's still plenty of work to do at Overton Park, but our wonderful Old Forest will never be clearcut again, because you stepped up to protect it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Edible Forest

Pawpaws in the trees

The pawpaws are ripe. North America's forgotten and largest native fruit now cover the understory of the Old Forest as the ripe pawpaws have begun falling from their branches to the forest floor, leaving a mild sweet-rotten smell in the air.

I took my very first taste of a pawpaw on the hike last Sunday.

It was good, it was rich and it had the texture of custard. It's supposed to taste like mango but I've never tasted mango which puts me in a unique position to say that mango is supposed to taste like pawpaw.

I'm not surprised that you don't see pawpaws, their irregular shape and creamy texture, in grocery stores. But as a featured flavor for liqueurs, beers, ice creams, sorbets, yogurts, chutneys, smoothies, breads, etc., it's long past time for the pawpaw to emerge from the darkness.

Along the path, you might also see the other great fruit of the Old Forest, grapes (these are muscadine), dangling from the canopy,

Muscadines hangin from the Old Forest

or wild ginger at your feet.

Wild ginger

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Have you taken the survey?

You have four more days to fill out the Overton Park community survey -- it closes on August 8. More than 1,500 of your neighbors have already shared their vision for our park. Please take the survey today!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Overton Park Images, 1908-1913

Thanks to the fabulous Memphis Room of the Benjamin Hooks Central Library for giving all citizens free access to historical documents and a scanner. Click the images to biggify. Enjoy!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Come together, Overton...

Saturday's public meeting got great media coverage from the Commercial Appeal and Memphis Daily News.

If you missed it, there's a second meeting tomorrow -- Tuesday, June 28, 5pm-7pm -- at the Memphis College of Art's Rust Hall, in the heart of Overton Park.

Drop in to fill out the (short and sweet) Speak Up! survey and get an awesome free t-shirt, or take the survey online at Our park needs your voice and your vision!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Speak Up!

Share your vision for Overton Park's future by joining your neighbors at an open-house meeting: this Saturday, June 25, 10am-Noon, and next week Tuesday, June 28, 5pm-7pm, at the Memphis College of Art's Rust Hall. Visit for more info.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Signed, sealed, delivered.

Governor Haslam has signed the Old Forest State Natural Area bill into law. It's official, people!

Thanks again to the hundreds of awesome citizens and elected officials who made this happen, and most especially to Sen. Beverly Marrero and Rep. Jeanne Richardson for never giving up.

Friday, May 20, 2011

It's a beautiful day...

The Old Forest State Natural Area legislation passed the Tennessee House today, 94-0! Since it already passed the Senate (32-0), this means 126 acres of the Old Forest will become Tennessee's 82nd State Natural Area as soon as Governor Haslam signs the bill.

It's taken 16 months of hard work from many wonderful people to give our 10,000-year-old forest the legal protection that it deserves, but we're finally just about there. Please take a few minutes to thank Mayor AC Wharton, Councilman Jim Strickland, and your state legislators for believing in the Old Forest State Natural Area.

On the Senate side, this bill was sponsored by Senator Beverly Marrero and co-sponsored by Senators Mark Norris, Ophelia Ford, Brian Kelsey, Jim Kyle, Reginald Tate, and Tim Barnes.

On the House side, this bill was sponsored by Representative Jeanne Richardson and co-sponsored by Representatives Karen Camper, Barbara Cooper, Mike Kernell, Lois DeBerry, Larry Miller, John DeBerry, Antonio Parkinson, Curry Todd, Joe Towns, Jim Coley, Ron Lollar, Johnny Shaw, Johnnie Turner, Steve McManus, Gerald McCormick, Craig Fitzhugh, Michael Ray McDonald, and Mike Stewart.

THANK YOU to the many hundreds of citizens and dozens of civic groups who spoke out in support of our beautiful forest to make this happen. Because the Old Forest needs all the love we can give it, and more.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Everything old is new again!

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe U.S. Supreme Court decision, we've reproduced a vintage CPOP shirt from the 1970s.

Thanks to the great people at Bluff City Sports for spiffing up the original design for us!

We will mail you this fabulous shirt as a thank-you gift when you donate $15 or more to CPOP. You can fill out the handy form below to donate securely online with your credit card or Paypal account.

If you would rather pick up your shirt in person and/or pay by check, please email us at

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Another hurdle cleared!

Yesterday the Old Forest State Natural Area bill was approved unanimously by committees in both the House and Senate of our state legislature. You can read the nitty-gritty in today's Commercial Appeal.

THANK YOU to everyone who is pulling together to make this happen for our community: Sen. Beverly Marrero, Rep. Jeanne Richardson, Sen. Mark Norris, and many other state legislators; Mayor AC Wharton and Councilman Jim Strickland; our friends George Cates, Gary Shorb and Charlie Newman; the awesome coalition of neighborhood associations and civic groups listed on our left sidebar; and the many citizens who support CPOP and love the Old Forest.

Please take a minute to contact your state legislators and ask them to support the Old Forest State Natural Area bill (SB 429 and HB 2056). Then go take a walk in our beautiful woods.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mayor Wharton ❤ the Old Forest

We have truly awesome news for y'all — Mayor AC Wharton is supporting the Old Forest State Natural Area! This means we have an excellent chance at getting state legislation passed within the next month that will protect 126 acres of the Old Forest from future bulldozers.

As you know from our FAQ and many blog posts, our goal was to include the fenced 17 acres in the State Natural Area designation. Memphis Zoo officials were not willing to do that, but they did agree to protect that 17 acres with a conservation easement instead. Our board accepted that compromise.

How can you help protect the remaining (unfenced) 126 acres of the Old Forest as a Tennessee State Natural Area? First, take a minute to email Mayor Wharton and thank him profusely. Then take a few more minutes to call or write your Tennessee legislators and ask them to stand with Mayor Wharton in support of Senate Bill 439 and House Bill 2056.

We are, as always, very grateful to Senator Beverly Marrero and Representative Jeanne Richardson for supporting the Old Forest State Natural Area from the start. Tell them you love 'em too.

If you want to help but aren't sure how to contact your legislators (or if you'd like a sample letter or have any questions) please email CPOP at or call us at 901-278-2396. Let's do this thing, people!

Original CPOP shirt from the 1970s, soon to be reborn.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

At the Library

The lovely and talented archivists of the Memphis Public Library have assembled a great historical collection of Overton Park postcards. You may click on each of the below images for a closer view, or visit their blog to browse the whole collection.

Let's rebuild this amazing playground/deathtrap! Our kids need more giant slides in their lives.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hug a (landmark) tree

Several years ago, we collaborated with Memphis Park Services and Park Friends Inc. to nominate the Old Forest for the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council "Landmark Trees" registry, and TUFC said yes. It took a little while to make it to their website, but here it is!

Old Forest of Overton Park, Memphis

Nominated by the City of Memphis (Memphis Park Services Division), Park Friends, Inc., and the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park - Added in 2008

A true island of green surrounded by urban sprawl, the Old Forest of Overton Park stands within the city of Memphis and is a testament to the protection and preservation attitudes of a people.

Once part of the old-growth virgin forest that formed Chickasaw Bluffs, "Lea's Woods" was at one time over 342 acres and was named for Overton and Ella Lea of Nashville. Overton Lea was a grandson of John Overton, the founder of Memphis in 1819 with Andrew Jackson and James Winchester. At the time Memphis acquired the tract for the public good in 1901, the Old Forest was 200 acres.

Overton Park was designed by the renowned landscape architect George E. Kessler and was listed on the National Historic Register in 1979. While Overton Park contains the Brooks Museum of Art, the Memphis College of Art, the Memphis Zoo, the Levitt Shell, Veteran's Plaza, the Greensward, two playgrounds and the Overton Park Golf Course, the Old Forest remains an oasis of natural ecosystems. It contains more than 330 plant species, with some of the trees exceeding 200 years of age. Some 160 bird species have been also been found frequenting the forest. Public trails wind through the tract and guided nature walks are provided every month. A network of citizen groups helps the city manage the Old Forest, including Citizens to Preserve Overton Park and Park Friends, Inc.

Overton Park also became nationally significant in 1971 for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe, which pitted the Federal Highway Administration, which wanted to build Interstate 40 through the park, against local desires to maintain the natural ecosystem. After they lost two court cases, including in the 6th Circuit Court, the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Supreme Court, and the result became a landmark administrative law case that has been cited in thousands of legal opinions across the nation. It was one of the few times that a non-profit organization won against a federal agency.

Although the Old Forest is now only 150 acres today, it remains a priceless resource for the community and the region.

Thank you, Tennessee Urban Forestry Council!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Forty years ago

On March 2, 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a final decision on Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe. This ruling effectively prevented Interstate 40 from bisecting Overton Park and Midtown Memphis. It remains a landmark administrative law case that has been cited in thousands of legal opinions across the nation.

But as important as this ruling was, and is, the protection it gave to Overton Park was limited to federal road projects. There is still no law that protects our city parkland from local bulldozers.

In 1956, the Federal Highway Administration and Memphis officials proposed the construction of Interstate 40 through Overton Park and adjacent neighborhoods in Midtown Memphis. A year later, a small group of Memphians banded together as Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP) to advocate against the proposed highway.

This citizen advocacy delayed the final approval of the midtown Memphis section of Interstate 40 until April 3, 1968, when the Memphis City Council met secretly with the administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. On April 4, the City Council formally voted to approve the route and road design. (Coincidentally, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis just moments after this vote was taken.)

In 1969, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) paid the City of Memphis $2 million for 26 acres of Overton Park and designated that land as Interstate 40 right-of-way.

In December of 1969, CPOP filed a local lawsuit to stop the imminent construction of the highway through the park, claiming that the federal government had failed to comply with its own regulations on routing highways through public parkland.

CPOP lost their suit and appealed to the 6th Circuit Court, where they lost again. By this time, December of 1970, the right-of-way for Interstate 40 had been cleared to the borders of Overton Park and construction was proceeding on what is now Sam Cooper Boulevard. Hundreds of homes and businesses had been destroyed.

As the bulldozers approached the east side of Overton Park, CPOP made one last effort and filed an emergency motion with the US. Supreme Court to stop highway construction. This time CPOP won their case.

The 1971 U.S. Supreme Court ruling forced the Federal Highway Administration and local authorities to follow a law -- Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 -- which required the study of all “feasible and prudent alternatives” to the use of public parkland for highway construction.

Between 1971 and 1980, the City of Memphis and TDOT continued to propose a number of alternatives for Interstate 40 -- building a two-level tunnel, building a one-level tunnel, building the highway in a deep trench, etc. -- that all followed the same route through Overton Park. None of these alternatives were approved by the Federal Highway Administration.

On January 26, 1981, TDOT finally removed the Midtown Memphis segment of Interstate 40 from the federal interstate highway plan. This decision was influenced by the cost of the proposed alternatives (estimated as high as $300 million) and by the construction of the Interstate 240 loop around Midtown Memphis, which provided a feasible alternative route.

In 1987, the State of Tennessee deeded the 26 acres of Overton Park back to the City of Memphis.

Overton Park remains the beloved centerpiece of the Memphis park system but it's still vulnerable to inappropriate development. It is time for our community to provide lasting legal protection for the entire 342-acre park and to create the 150-acre Old Forest State Natural Area.

We owe it to the courageous people who stood up for our park forty years ago, and we owe it to our kids.

Further info on CPOP v. Volpe:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lick Creek Minimal

Mayor A. C. Wharton's response to CPOP's letter and comment for the new Lick Creek study.

Thank you, Mr. Mayor!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Group hopes to polish 'jewel' of Overton Park

CPOP is a member of a new coalition of Overton Park supporters that is being organized by two prominent businessmen, George Cates and Gary Shorb, as reported in today's Commercial Appeal.

George Cates has been walking, biking and golfing at Overton Park for about 40 years -- long enough, as he puts it, "to see it deteriorate."

Now 73, Cates is taking initial steps to deal with what he views as the main threats to the 342-acre park in Midtown Memphis: inadequate maintenance and grass-mowing, litter, a steady encroachment into the old-growth forest and the lack of coordination among park users.

The retired chairman and CEO of Mid-America Apartment Communities has helped organize a group comprising representatives of park-user groups and tenants. Although it doesn't have a name yet, the group is made up of citizens who all "want to see the park restored to its former glory or greatness and become a jewel in the city's crown, as it once was," he said.

We look forward to working with a broader range of people to protect Overton Park's forest and open spaces, and to improve its built amenities.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Old Forest Jamboree!

Mark your calendars now -- we'll be throwing down another Old Forest Jamboree on Sunday, February 13, 4pm-7pm, at the fabulous Hi-Tone Cafe.

(Click image to biggify.)

We ask a $10 donation from adults. Kids are welcome and get in free, as always.

Here's the Facebook event so you can invite your friends and neighbors.

We are very grateful to the many talented musicians who give their time and energy to help protect the Old Forest, and to Jonathan Kiersky at the Hi-Tone Cafe for his unfailing generosity.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Come together

It's wonderful to see Park Friends Inc. advocating, in today's Commercial Appeal, for a conservation easement to protect all of Overton Park. CPOP first made this modest proposal in April of 2010 (you can shortcut to the PDF or read the full saga here) and we need all the help we can get!

This year, we look forward to working closely with Park Friends Inc. to create the Old Forest State Natural Area and obtain a meaningful conservation easement to protect all 342 acres of Overton Park.