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VOL. 131 | NO. 250 | Friday, December 16, 2016

Wolf River Greenway’s Epping Way Segment Moves Toward May Opening

By Bill Dries

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The only trace of Berry Brooks’ Epping Way clubhouse and recreation area is a pair of wooden gabled stone posts across the curb cut and gravel entrance at the end of a Raleigh cul de sac.

The Epping Way segment of the Wolf River Greenway, set to open in May, features a 20-acre lake – one of the biggest lakes on the greenway that follows the Wolf River across Shelby County.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The clubhouse and its parking lot just beyond the entrance on a hilltop that is still a verdant green days away from winter is long gone. A slim border, perhaps of a swimming pool, appears intermittently. The nine tennis courts are now a duck pond near the 20-acre lake that remains the centerpiece of the property.

The trail system and trail head areas for the Wolf River Greenway are taking shape first with a wider path than the trail will ultimately occupy to allow for the equipment as well as the gravel below the surface that allows for drainage.

“Just the view from that knoll over the lake was pretty spectacular,” Wolf River Greenway coordinator and project manager Bob Wenner said.

The North Highland entrance to Epping Way will be off a two-way protected bike lane that is to come between Douglass Park and James Road. That part of the project goes to bid next month.

“As you are on this trail coming from North Highland headed east just as you approach that lake coming out of that grove of trees – it’s just a pretty spectacular sight,” Wenner said. “This may be one of the larger lakes on the Wolf River Greenway trail if not the largest.”

A segment of the Epping Way trail winds through a grove of mature oaks, which act as a buffer between the lakefront trail and a stretch that runs alongside an open field.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The Epping Way part of the Greenway that follows the Wolf River across Shelby County is 60 percent complete with its opening tentatively set for May by the Wolf River Conservancy.

“We’re now at the mercy of the weather,” Wenner said during a tour Wednesday, Dec. 14.

Officials hope Epping Way will be a major destination with its two trailheads along diverse terrain ranging from an active soybean field to a wooded area with tall oak trees still holding many of their leaves.

“We have really tried to fit the trail –design it so we can really take advantage of all of those landscape conditions from the perspective of the trail user,” said Chuck Flink, of Alta Planning + Design, which is designing the greenway for the Wolf River Conservancy. “We put them on the edge of the soybean field. We put them on the edge of the lake. We went through the middle of the hardwood forest. All of those things come into play.”

The heavy construction equipment operators on the site off James Road, whose entrance is between two apartment complexes, occasionally strike up conversations with fishermen who have fished the lake for decades.

One who lives in a nearby apartment complex said Wednesday he had caught crappie and bass in the lake, which is a large oxbow that flows into the wooded area when the Wolf River gets high enough at its northernmost bend in Shelby County.

A group of Memphis birdwatchers are scheduled to conduct a Christmas bird count at Epping Way this month.

Those activities are what Flink has defined as the difference between a greenline and greenway. The Greenway is more of a destination than a way to walk or bike from one place to another.

And Epping Way takes its time on a diverse journey that is rarely a straight line.

Flink’s philosophy in planning those turns is “variety, rhythm, syncopation.”

“We’re trying to give you more of a strolling version,” he said. “It’s a slower way of using it.”

The Epping Way construction is one of three phases out of 19 that are under construction. Construction is underway in Kennedy Park, just east of Epping Way, on the other side of the river bend, with Kennedy Park also serving as a trail head where the conservancy would like to include boat access to the Wolf River on an existing boat ramp.

There are plans for a connection between Kennedy Park and Epping Way that would go under Austin Peay Highway in a project the conservancy is designing with private funds and that will be built by Shelby County government with federal funding as part of several environmental “resiliency” grants totaling $60 million.

“The connection point going underneath Austin Peay is where there are going to be some challenges, just because of the stabilization of the bank right in there,” Wenner said. “It made sense to kind of weave the trail closer to James Road and duck in behind the apartments there and then go underneath Austin Peay.”

The third phase under construction is “Confluence Park” – a park on the northern end of Mud Island where the Wolf River meets the Mississippi River. The area adjoins the city’s Greenbelt Park and would mark the western end of the 21-mile Greenway 30 years in the making.

Memphis City Schools owned the property for decades, during which Raleigh was annexed by the city of Memphis and plans for schools were made.

Wenner and the Conservancy pursued Epping Way for four years as what had been a simple transfer of the property became more complex with the 2013 merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems.

Wenner continues to research the history of the area, which at times proves elusive. The street whose cul de sac is the entrance to the area is Epping Way Drive. But some Memphians refer to the area as Epping Forest, which was the name of Brooks’ house and a planned subdivision in the 1970s that never was fully developed.

Flink calls it “the undiscovered country.”

He would like to add some cypress trees to the duck pond where the tennis courts once were, a feature common on other parts of the Wolf River, most notably the Ghost River segment.

“I think the long-term future is as an environmental education site,” Flink said.

Wenner still held out hope that the weather would delay its full winter turn long enough to pour the concrete footings for the bow truss bridge across what is a ravine normally and is a water flow between the lake and the duck pond when the water is higher.

The 85-foot long bridge will resemble the Wolf River Greenway bridge at Shelby Farms Park east of Humphreys Boulevard.

Berry Brooks was a cotton factor who owned what was originally a 284-acre estate on both sides of James Road with his house on the other side of the road from the Epping Way site that is owned by the Wolf River Conservancy.

He is best known in Memphis lore as a big-game hunter whose trophies from hunting safaris in Africa and other exotic locations were a staple of the Memphis Pink Palace Museum for years.

The Berry Brooks African Hall was added to the museum in the 1950s. Brooks gets credit for other stuffed animals in the museum’s collection. But many of them are from other collections the museum acquired when it was known as the Memphis Museum of Natural History and Industrial Arts.

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