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VOL. 125 | NO. 180 | Thursday, September 16, 2010

Boyle Donates Land to Wolf River Conservancy

By Eric Smith

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A forested tract of land along the Wolf River once slated for development has been spared the chainsaws and will instead be set aside as a nature preserve.

Boyle Investment Co. has given the Wolf River Conservancy 290 acres of pristine land north of the river in Memphis’ annexation reserve area about halfway between Germantown Parkway and Houston Levee Road.

Boyle, one of the city’s oldest real estate investment and development firms, estimated the land’s value at $2 million. That makes it the largest financial and second-largest property gift in the Wolf River Conservancy’s 25-year history. But the organization’s CEO Steve Fleegal said its true measure is worth more than any monetary value.

“For us, this is a major gift and donation,” he said. “But for the community, it’s a major statement of philanthropy on the part of a family that has benefited from the city of Memphis and has grown to care about it and is giving something back.”

The conservancy, a land trust that works to protect and promote the entire stretch of the river and its wetlands, was formed in response to a mining company potentially setting up shop on the river bank. WRC owns 20 tracts of land totaling 1,500 acres and also oversees 19 tracts of land totaling 1,300 acres under conservation easements.

This newest addition is between a neighborhood to the north and the Wolf River to the south. It is east of the conservancy’s Lovitt tract, a 318-acre parcel abutting the Lowe’s Home Improvement store on Germantown Parkway. On the other side of the river is the area where Germantown is extending Wolf River Boulevard as well as its version of a greenway.

Dotted with native timber and wetlands, the donated acreage will be called the Boyle Preserve. Boyle has maintained the property by thinning some of the vegetation while keeping important, old growth cypress, swamp white oak and other tree species.

The land will eventually become part of the Wolf River Greenway, a 100-mile conservation corridor along the river that contains green and open spaces to be used for outdoor recreation and nature-based education.

The centerpiece of the greenway is a trail that will span the length of the Wolf River from its mouth at the Mississippi River all the way into Fayette County.

The greenway will connect with different communities and a host of other green assets such as the Shelby Farms Greenline, which stretches from Shelby Farms Park to Midtown and is slated to open next month.

“This is major link in that (Wolf River Greenway) belt,” Fleegal said. “What we’re trying to do is consolidate from Germantown Road to Houston Levee Road that forest and that area. The Boyles have done a good job of managing that forest and leaving a lot of the timber.”

Although known primarily for developing land into residential and commercial uses, Boyle – both the company and the family – has a history of donating land for conservation.

Founded in 1933, the third-generation company gave 32 acres of land between the Wolf River and Humphreys Boulevard to help create a portion of the Wolf River Greenway in Germantown and 85 acres of nearby land to create the greenway’s first phase in Memphis.

Boyle chairman Bayard Boyle Jr. noted the potential development value of this recent land donation, but added that the acreage is worthy of protection and preservation – in the long run a higher and better use than another subdivision.

“We had long planned to develop a portion of the donated site for residential and commercial use,” Boyle said in a statement. “In discussions with the conservancy over several years, we decided that the conservation values of the site in its natural state were too important to lose.”

Fleegal touted Boyle’s donation, which further solidifies the company and family as corporate and civic stewards, and not just developers, in Memphis.

“The Boyles have had a major impact on the city from a development standpoint, from their subdivisions and their commercial developments,” Fleegal said. “I think what’s unique about this is that now they’re having a major impact on the city from a green standpoint. It’s different from what they’ve done in the past, but the impact on the city in helping to support and promote the greenway corridor is just as important for the future of our city.”

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