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VOL. 127 | NO. 222 | Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Aging With Grace

Big plans move forward as Overton Park turns 111

By Andy Meek

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Overton Park’s combination party and fundraiser this past weekend celebrated a milestone birthday for the park.

Otis Allen walks with his border collie, Sydney, through the woods at Overton Park. The park is celebrating 111 years in the community with a number of developments for the future. 

(Photos: Lance Murphey)

But in addition to serving as a way for supporters to tip the hat in honor of the park’s 111th anniversary and enjoy drinks, hors d’oeuvres, music and dancing in the park’s “formal gardens,” the “Magical Night at Overton Park” event Saturday, Nov. 10, was something more. Tina Sullivan, executive director of the Overton Park Conservancy, said the event was the group’s first major fundraiser.

And all proceeds from the gathering are going toward the renovation of Rainbow Lake Playground, for which the park is hoping to break ground this month or in early December.

The new playground will have a forest theme, using natural materials and colors, and will incorporate elements inspired by the nearby Old Forest. What’s more, that renovation is one of several projects at Overton Park in the design phase at the moment.

“The conservancy started getting down to business managing the park in February of this year,” said Sullivan, who became the conservancy’s executive director effective May 1.

The conservancy maintains and operates Overton Park for the city under the terms of a 10-year contract approved by the Memphis City Council late last year. Under terms of the contract, the conservancy has raised private funding for the park.

Sullivan ticked off a laundry list of projects that are ongoing. The conservancy built the Overton Bark dog park, for example, and renovated the formal gardens. Volunteers were on hand two weekends ago replanting the gardens area – putting it, according to Sullivan, in the best shape in which it’s been in many years.

There also are plans for the installation of new restrooms as well as a new hard surface trail linking some outside areas to the park’s internal paved road system.

Adrian Bitowft, from left, Ruth Brown and Fleetis Hannah watch as Alan Lurie plays with his dog, Moxie, at Overton Bark, the enclosed dog park at Overton Park. 

Sullivan, a certified grants manager who had been a conservancy volunteer, is the first permanent director for the nonprofit group, which was formed last year. She worked for the San Diego Unified Port District managing a grants portfolio prior to coming here.

Regarding Rainbow Lake Playground, an attractive fence eventually will surround the playground, with gates near the pavilion and near Rainbow Lake. Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects has completed the design phase, with the total budget estimated to be between $400,00 and $450,000.

Meanwhile, the conservancy also is looking to build an East Parkway entrance for bicyclists and pedestrians where Sam Cooper Boulevard ends that will link to bicycle lanes in the Broad Avenue Arts District. These and other related efforts are in support of a park population that Sullivan said includes “such a diverse mix of people,” comprising one of things she loves most about the park.

“We have the (Memphis) College of Art right in the center of the park, so we have students walking in the park frequently,” she said. “We have church picnics and family reunions in our picnic areas. The playground on the East Parkway side gets a lot of use. It’s just a constant flow of people.

“Overton Bark also has this really interesting mix of people and dogs. What I love is Overton Park is just a community gathering place. It’s not just a neighborhood park. People from all over Memphis can come and enjoy the unique amenities we have here, like the Levitt Shell and nature trails. And, of course, it’s a stunningly beautiful park.”

The Daily News is a supporter of the Overton Park Conservancy.

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