Monday, August 31, 2009

Two Festivals in One Day

Come on out to Overton Park on Saturday, Sept. 26th and party times two -- the dog festival Woofstock is returning to the Greensward (I'll have music line-ups for you soon), and the new Nuts! Over Art festival will be taking place in and around the Shell. Good cross-pollenization. I love days when it feels like all of Midtown gathers in the park.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Overton Park Classic yesterday

The Overton Park 5 Mile Classic (the only race I know of in Memphis with its own marble plaque commemoration) was yesterday morning, and it was fun to see the park so full of people. The race winds around the park, through the woods, around the Greensward two different times, and ends up there at the edge of the field, with plenty of space for friends and family to see the approach to the finish line and cheer on their loved ones. It's always a festive day out in the park.
Paul Sax (above), daily runner and coach, directs traffic and watches runners on the Greensward. Paul puts on the race these days, keeping a piece of Memphis history alive.
Running through the woods (and where better to run on an August morning, even a nice one?) and the finish line.

Skatepark in Glenview?

Mary Cashiola of the Flyer reports that Glenview has been announced as the Park Department's choice of site for Memphis's first skatepark. The local skateboarders and bikers have been making impressive presentations about the popularity of skating in America, and they've had strong showings at planning meetings for Mud Island. Memphis is overdue for a skatepark, and Glenview sounds like a great, centrally located spot for one. I still think a skatepark could rejuvenate Mud Island as well, but one in Glenview would be a great start.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Construction update

Cindy Buchanan, director of Park Services, got in touch with General Services, which is the division building the new structure in the maintenance section of Overton Park. The building is within the maintenance area fence, but they had planned to run the sewer line out toward Poplar Ave. along an MLGW right-of-way through the Old Forest. Cindy talked to their administrator Larry Jenkins, however, and he agreed to keep the sewer line within the compound (tie it back into the existing sewer lines there) instead of encroaching out into the rest of the park. Many thanks to Cindy for standing up for the park and keeping city government from viewing it as their annexation area for government buildings and projects.

The Park Commission used to do this kind of bird-dogging of projects within parks, and our parks are less protected without them. The current mayor's race and change of administration seems like the perfect time to push for the restoration of an independent Park Commission. Please consider lobbying the candidate of your choice for more protection of our public parks.

Friday, August 28, 2009

David Kesler receives award from Rhodes

Longtime, recently retired, and much missed Park Friends board member David Kesler just received the Jameson M. Jones Award for Outstanding Faculty Service. David is a biology professor at Rhodes who has been our longtime forestry expert on the board and who, in a series of student projects, eradicated kudzu in the Old Forest. He has cheerfully led clean-ups and privet pulls and been a calm and steady presence in board meetings. This award, focused on his community service (Park Friends is just one branch of his giving back to the community) is much deserved. Thank you for all your hard work, David!

Construction in Overton Park

I'd heard rumors of building in the city's maintenance area of Overton Park, though I hadn't been able to see anything when I drove up in there. Then this week a big plywood construction address sign appeared on Poplar just west of East Parkway, right in the deep part of the Old Forest, and the address said "281 East Parkway." After sending several emails to various people, Cindy Buchanan (director of Park Services) got back to me to say that the ADA (apparently we have a city government office in charge of disability compliance) is building an office building in the maintenance area on an old parking lot.

No trees have been harmed so far, but the construction plan has the sewer line running right through the Old Forest and out to Poplar. Cindy was unaware that they would be doing any work outside the maintenance area fence and has written to ask the supervisor to look into alternate routes for the sewer line that don't involve bulldozing a swathe of Old Forest. Watch this space for updates.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Birds and Bees at the zoo -- ends Labor Day

The Birds and the Bees exhibit, where you can feed the budgies up close and personal, is the runaway hit of the summer at the Zoo. The exhibit ends on Labor Day, so get on out and feed some birds while they're still in town. Morning is best, when they haven't been eating all day, but anytime you can get there to see the jewel-toned birds sitting on the dowel right in front of your face (maybe even in your hands or your lap) is worth the price of admission.

Nuts! Over Art family art festival

The new arts fest in the park, Nuts! Over Art, has launched its website at Strangely enough, they said, that web address was not yet taken. They've got the participating artists listed, but the music line-up is still TBA. One fun feature you can show your kids is that you can "paint" on the welcome page while the animated squirrel jumps around.

The festival will have a line up of children's performers in the Shell all afternoon, hands on art projects for the kids, an artists' market, performances by Midtown arts groups, and special exhibitions in both Brooks and MCA. Park Friends' Willy Bearden has also been asked to reprise his historical tour of the park.

Park Friends has been awarded an in-kind sponsorship in exchange for Willy's tour and help with the clean-up afterwards at 6pm. It's not our normal time for a clean-up, but I hope lots of you will come turn out for the festival and stay to help pick up a little trash or carry a few chairs at the end of it. PFI is excited to be included in the press for this event, and we hope everyone will come out and support it. I'm thrilled to have an arts festival back in Overton Park.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Kick off party at the Shell next Saturday

This invitation is posted on Facebook (though not, strangely enough, on the Shell's own site):

Season Kick-Off Party
Levitt Shell
Saturday, August 29, 2009
7:00pm – 10:30pm
$10 Admission

The Levitt Shell at Overton Park gets geared up for its Fall 2009 concert season of free, open-air concerts with a special Kick-Off Party on Saturday, August 29, 2009 at 7:00pm.

We’ll be rockin’ the Shell with special guests

Jimbo Mathus
Blind Mississippi Morris & Brad Webb
Delta Joe Sanders

It’s a very special Memphis night. Come early or come late, but don’t miss this party!

Doors open at 6:00pm
Admission is $10
Food and beer will be sold at concessions
This event only, please no coolers or picnic baskets
All ages are welcome
You must be 21 or older to purchase beer

All proceeds from this event will benefit the Levitt Shell’s Fall 2009 free concert season which begins September 3 – October 4!

Come on out and support your Shell on August 29 with a night of the best music in Memphis!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Levitt Shell fall season

The Shell has posted its fall season here. The season runs from Sept. 3 to Oct. 4th -- five weeks of Thursday to Sunday concerts, with a bonus kids' show every Saturday. Highlights include a kids show with Farmer Jason (formerly from Jason and the Scorchers), Joyce Cobb, and the Duhks.

Photo by Chris Desmond/Special to The Commercial Appeal
Here's a photo from the Commercial Appeal archive. Barney Sellers took this shot of the cleaning out of Rainbow Lake in 1981, back when they list the draining and cleaning as an annual event. Now that more fish live in the lake, I'm sure that those of us who spent two days catching fish would be happy if the plumbing doesn't need attention as often as every year. Chris Baker, one of the lead Zoo guys on the project, is personally hoping for once a decade instead.

Commercial Appeal turtle shots

Photographer Chris Desmond came to the re-release/turtle race on Saturday and got a couple of great shots of the proceedings. I was taking part, and I didn't get a good shot of the race starting line, so I'm grateful to him for these good photos.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rainbow Lake Fish and Turtle Release

Fourteen turtles were fostered over in the zoo during the work on Rainbow Lake, and there was a ceremonial release back into the lake today. Here they are awaiting the return to their habitat.
There was a great turtle race, lining them all up on the far side of the sidewalk to see who could make the lake first. The largest turtle was raring to go and made it in before I could get a photo, but here's one of the later ones finding his way back into the water.

And another, making his escape from a life of captivity.
Volunteer Kim Hill springs a handful of snail from their confinement.

And finally, with many thanks due to them, a group of the hardworking zoo staff who captured, nurtured, and returned thousands of fish and other wildlife, keeping Rainbow Lake as natural a waterway as a concrete wading pool can aspire to be. Park users are in their debt for preventing the wholesale fish suffocation that happened last time the lake had to be drained.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rainbow Lake Ceremonial Re-release

There will be a ceremonial re-release of the last fish back into the lake tomorrow (Saturday) at 2pm. Zoo staff have been gradually releasing the over 10,000 fish back into the lake during the last week or so, but they're holding some fish and turtles for tomorrow. Chris Baker, one of the Zoo curators, even mentioned the possibility of a turtle race, though I'm not sure if that's in the final plans or not.

If you were a fish-catching volunteer, we'd love the chance to thank you again -- come see the fruits of your labors as all the fish are put back in their home. If you missed all the earlier fun, come on anyway, have a nice day out in the park, and thank the volunteers and very hard-working Zoo curators who saved all the fish.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nuts! Over Art children's art festival

Overton Park will once again host an arts festival this fall. In a joint venture between Memphis College of Art, the Brooks Museum, and Riverarts Festival, and the Levitt there will be a family focused art fair in the area in and around the Shell. There will be artist demonstrations, hands on projects for the kids, childrens' music and performances, and an artists' market.

The festival is from 11-6 on Saturday, Sept. 26th. Park Friends is helping sponsor this event, and we're asking for volunteers to help during and after the festival. Come on out with the family, enjoy a great event, and help carry a few chairs at the end! For more festival information, visit their website (the music and artist listings are still to come), or email me to volunteer for Park Friends.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Now Showing in the Old Forest

Spiderwort along the jogging trail.

The bellflowers just keep on going, beautifying our entire summer season.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cobblestone Meeting Tonight!

Please come out and support one of our city's historic treasures this evening. Our boat landing downtown made Memphis the city it is now, and it would be a shame to lose this asset. We need more access to the river, not less. Don't let the RDC close off the river access and cover up the cobblestones with junky rip rap.

The meeting tonight is at 5:30 at the Balinese Ballroom, 33o S. Main. Visit the Friends for our Riverfront for more information.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

More Mushrooms

The mushrooms keep on flourishing at the park through the recent wet weather. It's been fun to watch out for different shapes, sizes, and patterns as I've walk recently.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Rainbow Lake back to normal

Notice the clean water! It's a little dark because they put in an opacity agent to help control the algae, but it's see-through to the bottom. Here's the morning playgroup enjoying having a lake again.

Important Cobblestones Meeting

I got the following from Pan Awsumb, one of our board members. The Cobblestones aren't technically a public park, but like Overton, they are an important and historic public space that is about to become unusable as a boat landing, its traditional purpose in life. Memphis has a history of letting its historic places get changed irrevocably for the worse. Just up from the Cobblestones is Cossitt Library, one of the worst examples. Please consider going to this meeting or writing an email to preserve our river landing, the reason Memphis came to be.

"Last Chance Cobblestones Meeting
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
5:30-7:30 pm
330 North Main (the Balinese Ballroom)
Location: north of the Convention Center and the 1-40 bridge, on the east side of the street, at Jackson Avenue.

We are about to lose the ability to land kayaks and canoes on the Cobblestones. The "restoration" project, as presented by the RDC, is to "stabilize and restore the Memphis Cobblestone Landing and provide limited usability, connectivity and accessibility improvements." Rip rap (big chunks of rock) would separate a newly constructed sidewalk from the river.

BUT that is NOT what the RDC promised the Memphis City Council it would do in order to obtain project approval. They said they would, "Restore the Cobblestones to their historic uniqueness, and establish them as a great commercial boat landing and civic square at the foot of Union Avenue." The Cobblestones are supposed to be restored as a riverboat landing for all but the largest boats.

The meeting is being held by the TN Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is most likely our last opportunity to make this area really usable by the people, and not just a viewpoint from a sidewalk.
Whether your interest is history, recreation, public use or revitalization, come and spread the word.

For more information, check the Friends for our Riverfront website:, and "

Friday, August 7, 2009

Larry Franks, superman

I want to publicly thank Larry Franks for all of his work helping keep Overton Park good for the people who use it. Larry is Administrator of Maintenance for the Department of Park Services, and he's working hard to keep all the parks of Memphis running on an increasingly trimmed budget. He's been very responsive to requests for maintenance in the park. First I wrote and told him about broken water fountains and missing garbage cans. Everything was taken care of the next day. Then I wrote and asked him if we could catch the fish in Rainbow Lake as they drained it to do repair work. He was immediately responsive and worked with the Zoo curators to get that done, in spite of the fact that it threw off his work schedule on the project by most of two days.

Finally I wrote him a couple of days ago and asked about getting the Greensward mowed, since we were beginning to wade through a hayfield out there. The Dallas grass is the bane of my existence, both at home and in the park. I made the case that we don't need an army of weed-eaters every time -- if we could just keep the middle of the field knocked down, it would make a huge difference. Despite the fact that the city is now confined to a 25 day mowing cycle for parks because of the budget, he got someone out to mow the main field THAT DAY.

Thank you, Larry! Please thank the DPS employees when you see them in the park. They work hard and have tough circumstances on the job right now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Golf Hours under further discussion

The CA has an article today on a recent meeting called because of continuing unhappiness among golfers over shorter course hours instituted July 1st. Mary Cashiola, my favorite local columnist and blogger, has a much more informative follow-up posted on the Memphis Flyer site.

Now Showing in the Old Forest

Elderberry berries, richly multicolored.
American Bellflower, still adorning forest after many weeks of blooming.

And Poke Sallet, with both white and dark berries on different stems. The forest is ever-changing, so come out and walk it and see what's new.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fairgrounds envisioned as mostly park/green space

There's a new plan for the Fairgrounds on the table, championed by Robert Lipscomb, the CA reports today. Unlike the Henry Turley plan, which has more emphasis on retail and a big box store or two, this newer plan has much more green space and athletic fields. There is also some smaller retail, complementing what's available in Cooper Young and other neighboring areas, and some housing, but the focus is much more on family-centered outdoor activities.

With the momentum Shelby Farms has out east, it would be marvelous to see an expansion of green space and play areas for Midtown. The Fairgrounds is also tied to Overton Park by the Parkway system. Wouldn't it be great to have them linked by a foot and bike path again, as they were in the early days of the city? My grandmother used to rent a horse at the Fairgrounds and ride up the median of East Parkway and into the bridle paths in the Old Forest. We need this kind of connectivity again, and a second large green space in Midtown, as a complement to Overton Park, would be a great start.

Rainbow Lake filling back up

I got an email from Larry Franks, hard-working DPS administrator of maintenance, this morning. The work is finished in Rainbow Lake, and they'll begin filling it back up about lunchtime today. That's impressive, given the amount of rain they had to contend with on this job, as well as the delay for a second day of fish rescue. It will be lovely to have the lake back again.

Larry says the Zoo curators are planning to return the fish and wildlife to the lake next week, after the oxygen has a chance to stabilize and the chlorine to dissipate. So we'll be back to normal (but with working fountains and drainage) very soon.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mushroom madness

All the rain has led to a massive sprouting of mushrooms all over the park. I've enjoyed walking and looking at all the different shapes and sizes. The original manuscript of Peter Pan (more fairies, fewer pirates) says that when you find a circle of mushrooms, fairies have been having a ball there. I think there was some dancing on the Greenward under the moon a couple of nights ago.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Park Use in China

My friend Heidi Bissell is in China all summer doing research, and she recently wrote me about how the Chinese enjoy their parks:

"There are beautiful public parks all over (they put Overton to shame - more like Central Park in NYC) with lakes and bridges and trees and such. The biggest difference, though, is that the parks here are FULL of people all day and all night. Every square inch is used by people playing music in small groups, people looking on, people dancing with fans and scarves.

In the mornings there are mostly individual musicians practicing, and tons of people doing their morning Tai Chi or other exercises, but at night all the musicians and dancers perform. It's cacophony sometimes because it is so crowded that the music all overlaps. But it's so much fun to wander around listening to all the music and seeing all the families out listening and enjoying the shows. The performers are rather skewed towards the older folks, but there are always a few young people playing and dancing too, so there's hope for the future."