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!