Friday, July 8, 2011

Security Alert

We've had several sightings this week of a tall, African-American man in his thirties wearing a red shirt. He's been following women alone in the park. He drifted after me on my walk Tuesday, but I was out in the public area, put on a spurt of speed, and got over into the zone with the MCA security guard, and he walked off in another direction. However, Thursday someone answering to that same description actively ran after a runner who was alone on the main running trail around the Old Forest (in the wooded section). She made it safely to the fire station, with the help of a passer by. I've heard of at least one more instance this week where someone of this description was watching/following women in the park.

Please keep your eyes open, your cell phone with you, and stay out in the public areas of the park if you are by yourself. Take a big dog with you if you can. Thursday we had 50 golfers play the course, now that it's open full time again. Hopefully this increased traffic in the park will provide security for everyone.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What we've been up to

For those of you (like me) who have had a flat out crazy spring and haven't had a chance to renew your membership yet. Here's why you should.

Dear Friends,

We at Park Friends miss you. We really appreciate your past support. In updating our membership roster we notice that you have not yet renewed your membership. This letter is to encourage you to do so.

Over the past year, the Park Friends board, members and volunteers have been working on the following things to benefit Overton Park and citizens living in its proximity:

---Park Friends aligned with other midtown groups in the Lick Creek Storm Water Coalition to find solutions for and to support the construction of a parking garage at Overton Square with water detention at that site. This site would greatly increase the effectiveness of the Lick Creek drainage and reduce the flooding experienced by people living in the Lick Creek basin.

---Park Friends Board President Martha Kelly and other board members have been part of the development of a Conservancy spearheaded by George Cates and Gary Shorb that we hope will bring considerable financial resources and renewed vigor to Overton Park.

---Park Friends hired an engineer to develop a plan to get the running trail in shape, and committed funds towards that. We have been awaiting approval by the Parks Department;

---Park Friends is actively working to obtain an easement for the entire park, which is needed to protect all of Overton Park, and which will complement the State Nature Area designation awarded to the Old Forest;

---Park Friends continues to maintain signage and fight kudzu in the Old Forest;

---Park Friends has facilitated several park clean ups, and held its annual Christmas party;

---Park Friends has kept our informational kiosks, situated at two key park entrances, stocked with maps and schedules;

---Park Friends volunteers again spearheaded the Junior Open Golf Tournament.

Please send us your membership contribution, and an extra contribution if you can. Enclosed is an envelope for your convenience.

Most importantly, please come volunteer with us! Overton Park is our city's treasure.


Martha Kelly

President, Park Friends Board of Directors

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Madison Ave. bike lane letter

Here's my letter to Mayor Wharton and Councilman Strickland. Sadly, protected bike lanes on Madison are in jeopardy because of a few vocal opponents. Please let your voice be heard if you'd like a safe way to bike in midtown and link up to Overton Park and the future Greenway that will be linking to the park. We need all the safety and connectivity we can get.

Dear Mayor Wharton and Councilman Strickland,

I'm distressed to hear that a few vocal opponents of bike lanes on Madison may ruin the project for the overwhelming number of both businesses and individuals who want it. I understand that we only have one chance to do this with federal funds, as we do routine repaving.

The Greenway has been a run-away hit, but it would be lovely to have protected, safe places to bicycle in the heart of the city as well. I dream of doing my grocery shopping by bicycle instead of car, but I don't feel safe in Memphis traffic. With a grocery coming to Overton Square (and building that parking garage with flood control is another piece of revitalizing a desperately needy Madison Ave.), I could live that dream. These bike lanes will also be a great connector with the Greenline and Overton Park once we get lanes on Cooper as well. Connectivity is the key to getting people safely around the city and improving both air and life quality in Memphis.

Simply putting up "Share the road" signs does nothing to protect cyclists. Please give us a few safe ways to get through the heart of the city. We're at a turning point for reinventing Memphis for pedestrians and cyclists and digging ourselves out of the bottom of every national quality-of-life and healthy living list. Please take this important step to keep moving in the right direction.

Bicycle lanes in no way are comparable to the disruption of the trolley (the main argument of opponents). There is not enough traffic on Madison to be halving numbers of cars simply because we're moving them over into one lane. In addition, as a car driver, I can tell you that adding the turn lane would be a huge plus for drivers.

Thank you both for moving us towards a more healthy city environment. Please continue to do so with bike lanes on Madison.

Sincerely, Martha Kelly

Thursday, April 7, 2011

letter to members

We're going to be sending out more regular updates about news in our parks to members, and here's the first one that just went out. We'd love to have you join Park Friends and receive these updates directly.


As a member of Park Friends, you will be receiving brief, regular updates sharing information and requesting your input on things of importance to Overton Park. This first one concerns the proposed Eggleston Archive that is considering the General Services area in Overton as one of its several possible sites.

Mark Crosby, who is heading up the Archive effort, asked to come and speak to our board. We listened with interest, but have taken no official position.

What is your opinion?

We've heard from some Park Friends members already, and welcome your input on this or any other issue regarding our great parks.

Martha Kelly
President, Park Friends

Friday, January 7, 2011

Guest Editoral in the Commercial Appeal

The nonprofit group Park Friends was founded in 1992 to help maintain Overton Park and to oppose plans to pave several of its green spaces for parking. We have been advocates for protection of the park ever since. We have defeated several proposed developments and completed projects that include sprinklers for the formal gardens, signs for the Old Forest trail, ongoing maintenance and clean-ups.

And now Park Friends has a modest proposal for city of Memphis officials: a conservation easement that would cover all the public green spaces of the park. Such a move would not only protect the irreplaceable old-growth forest but also prevent further paving and construction in the remainder of the park.

There has been a lot of ink spilled lately about the merits of proposed legislation that would establish the forest as a state natural area, versus the conservation easement that city officials prefer. But an easement and the natural area legislation could easily co-exist. Several parks across the state, including Shelby Farms, have a state natural area -- where the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation enforces restrictions on development and usage -- paired with an easement that protects the overall park in a way that allows for recreational facilities but prohibits inappropriate development.

An easement can be as loose or as protective as the property owner chooses to make it, but its advantage is that it would be an appropriate vehicle to cover all of Overton Park instead of just the forest. It is time for Memphians to stand up and demand a comprehensive and tightly written easement that would protect the entire park for generations to come.

The nonprofit Land Trust for Tennessee, which holds the easement for Shelby Farms, has been consulted by the city and is currently writing its first draft of an Overton Park easement. The Land Trust would hold the easement and legally enforce, if necessary, all protections written into the final draft. If the full park is covered by the easement, future generations of city officials would not be allowed to sell off or over-build the park.

Unfortunately, however, even with the excellent example of Shelby Farms in front of them, the city's Division of Park Services requested a draft easement that covers only the forest. Not even the Greensward, the large field and gathering place by Rainbow Lake, is covered in this first draft. Park Friends has been urging the city for months to cover the whole park, and it is disappointing that city officials are so far ignoring this opportunity to protect the crown jewel of the Memphis park system.

Expanding protection to all of Overton Park is crucial because the city has had an abysmal track record of defending the park in the past. Do we need a fire station? Let's put it in Overton Park. A maintenance area? Sure, put it in the park. More parking? Let's pave over another field. A senior center? Why not? Cut down some trees. Parts of the forest have been eaten away, but the other areas of the park are regularly threatened as well.

Shelby Farms and the new Shelby Farms Greenline have been prominent in the news lately, and there is a growing consensus that parks and recreational facilities are crucial elements for the city's future. Professionals deciding whether to bring jobs to the city and young creative types who enrich a city immeasurably are all drawn to green spaces and recreational facilities. Shelby Farms has been rightly hailed as a treasure, but the grand, old, urban park of Memphis remains Overton Park. It contains much of our history as a city and is accessible to and integrated with the neighborhoods on all sides. This park deserves comprehensive protection, not just for its forest but also for its remaining open spaces.

The golf course has been continually threatened by city budget cuts. It is important to the life of the park, and Park Friends is fighting to keep it operational; but if we ever do lose it, I worry that a land grab for asphalt parking lots or a sell-off of frontage along Poplar Avenue will follow. There needs to be protection in place to maintain the integrity and beauty of this historic and irreplaceable park.

Mayor A C Wharton has made park issues one of his major platforms. I hope he will step up to the plate and give Memphians an easement that has tight protections for both the forest and the other public spaces in Overton Park. The park deserves it. Memphis deserves it. Our grandchildren deserve it.

Martha Kelly is a Memphis artist and president of Park Friends.