A Park for the People

Posted on May 1, 2014

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By Lees Romano

36Shelby Farms Park Conservancy is transforming 4,500 acres in the center of Shelby County into America’s premier 21st century park. It’s vision entails ambitious plans to create a park with the power to transform the character of the Memphis community, a space that will act as an epicenter for benefits affecting the health, economy, human capital, and environmental spirit for Memphis, Shelby County, and the Mid-South region.

The Heart of the Park project at Shelby Farms Park, set to begin this year and be completed in 2016, is only a small part of Phase One in the overall Master Plan. Phase one includes already completed projects such as the Shelby Farms Greenline, Woodland Discovery Playground, and the Wolf River Pedestrian Bridge. The Shelby Farms Greenline positively impacts property values, economic development, health, and wellness in the community, and has caused a popular demand of bike lanes and trails. The Heart of the Park will make Memphis a more livable community, one characterized by choice. In addition, this project will also create permanent jobs and draw tourism to the region.
“The goals of the Heart of the Park project are to restore and repair the watershed, landscapes, and lake ecosystem for environmental sustainability, while adding new amenities to the lake’s shore,” says Jen Andrews, Director of Development and Communications for Shelby Farms Park Conservancy.

Heart of the Park is a major two-year construction project that will take place in the center of the park. While this occurs, the Conservancy will maintain Park access and uphold pedestrian connections by providing fun, new things to do in separate Park areas. The Master Plan will result in a vibrant epicenter that focuses on the improvement of long-term environmental sustainability, as well as create lasting revenue sources for the upkeep of the Park and Greenline.

Patriot Lake, located at the center of the Park, is the central focus of the Master Plan, and upon its completion, this area will serve as an active and playful centerpiece of the park. Not only will the lake’s expansion produce new landscapes for strolling, jogging, cycling, picnicking, sunbathing, and kayaking, among others, but this project will exhibit a wide range of scenery and habitats. Lastly, an expansive recreational trail system will connect all Park landscapes.

“We’re excited to be able to build new trails, provide a restaurant and café, to have more opportunities for people who haven’t yet visited the Park to come and enjoy this public space,” Andrews reports. “We’re excited about the impact that the Heart of the Park will have on the community.”

The overall Phase One Capital Campaign fundraising goal is $70 million. Thus far, $63 million has been raised. The vast majority of these funds come from private sources such as individuals, corporation, and foundations. The Park is run by the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that works with Shelby County in the operation and management of the Park and Greenline. This organization raises more than 75% of the Park and Greenline’s annual operating budget. It takes $7,123 each day to keep the Park and Greenline clean, green, and safe, and as a result, the nonprofit relies heavily on the support of members, donors, volunteers, and sponsors.

Prior to Conservancy management, the Park was operated by Shelby County Government and was largely a mowing operation. Most of the landscapes, all man-made, were unhealthy. Forests were dying, invasive species were running rampant, and the park lacked educational outreach programs. Unprotected, land developers attempted to buy and developing the Park. However, the Conservancy lobbied for a conservation easement to protect the land as a public park that now prohibits the sale and commercial development of the land. The public chose James Corner Field Operation as the architecture firm to landscape the Park, a company whose designs and business plans have been carefully vetted, tested, and refined by international and local landscape management and park operation experts.

Connecting people to the Park has always been a priority. The Greenline and Wolf River Pedestrian Bridge are designed to create pedestrian access to the Park, while the Woodland Discovery Playground is intended to promote free, open, inclusive play. Further, Ranger-led field trips and other educational programs bring thousands of school children to the Park each year. Heart of the Park will provide an even more inclusive, enjoyable environment for all.

“We are delivering the community’s vision for Shelby Farms Park—the public charged us to heal and restore damaged ecosystems, to create more opportunities to play and recreate, to provide amenities for education, celebration, and gathering, and to make sure the Park is well cared for,” Andrews says. “These plans deliver on each of those desires, and will elevate the Park’s place in the hearts and minds of the community. Shelby Farms Park belongs to all the people of Shelby County, and it’s important to us that everyone is invited and has an opportunity to make it their own.”

Lees Romano is a Rhodes College sophomore and plans to major in English.

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