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VOL. 7 | NO. 49 | Saturday, November 29, 2014

Walk in the Park

Shelby Farms’ Wise Trek Targets 50-Plus Group

By Don Wade

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They hike the trails, ride their bikes on the Greenline, maybe even go horseback riding or play disc golf.

“We see that age group out here all day long,” said Coral O’Connor, program assistant at Shelby Farms Park.

The $52 million Heart of the Park renovations project, expected to be completed in the summer of 2016, is the headline-grabber. But other programs are continuing or being started, such as the new Wise Trek program for park users 50 and older.

The program name was nothing if not intentional.

O’Connor says they didn’t want to use descriptors such as “golden” or “seniors” because, to some people, those words have negative connotations.

“We wanted to highlight their wisdom,” O’Connor said. “Some of our docents know more about the park than anyone on staff.”

Marilynn Weedon, 66, uses the park often. She and her husband, Bill, ride their bikes on the Shelby Farms Greenline. She hikes trails with other friends, works as a park volunteer and recently became a park docent. She likes the Wise Trek name, in part because she doesn’t believe those other terms do this age group justice.

“Baby boomers are coming into this age group with a different attitude and set of circumstances than previous generations,” Weedon said.

Weedon knows enough the park well enough to give tours to vans and buses full of people from retirement homes and assisted living centers. While they ride around enjoying the scenery, she provides an informal history lesson. Then those who can, and wish to, may get off and take a short walk or just sit outside on a bench.

“That was fun,” Weedon said. “I hope we do more of that.”

Natalie Wilson, events and programs manager at Shelby Farms Park, says even though the 50-plus age group has been using the park often, that demographic had been overlooked by not having its own programming.

“We haven’t had a focus on them until now, which shows us this was a missing (element),” Wilson said.

Wise Trek aims to hit a lot of interests. There are gardening classes, guided hikes and Tai Chi classes. Richard Link, a senior trainer at Tai Chi for Health Institute, is the instructor.

He says he tries to accommodate all ages and fitness levels, and the class can be taken standing or sitting down. For older participants, he says, there can be tangible safety benefits.

“One of the things I primarily do is show them how to shift their weight and walk carefully,” he said of the less mobile participants. “Tai Chi is a very slow thing. It’s not instant gratification.”

Also on the horizon: a book club and board game meet-up. Weedon is looking forward to both.

“The idea of having a new group at the park (for cards and dominoes) would be fun,” she said.

The renovation project is not being done without the Wise Trek crowd in mind. The new Patriot Lake will have a designated Wise Trek trail, about a mile long, paved, and offering signage with park facts and including benches for rest breaks.

Meantime, Marilynn Weedon will remain active with hiking and biking and volunteering at the Visitors Center. She says she knows of other 50-plus people who feel safe riding their bikes on the Greenline but wouldn’t ride on city streets. She realizes some people might be wary of hiking trails that go far into the woods, but there are group hikes to alleviate any safety concerns there.

The Weedons have lived in Memphis since the 1980s – Bill grew up here – and for Marilynn there is no question what she believes to be the city’s best asset: Shelby Farms, even while it’s undergoing a massive reconstruction project.

“For me, it’s number one,” she said.

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