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VOL. 10 | NO. 28 | Saturday, July 08, 2017

Confluence Park Takes Shape On Former Mud Island ‘Trash Dump’

By JODY CALLAHAN

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Before her knee surgery, Sara Yarrow ran anywhere from five to 10 miles a week, often near her Mud Island home.

Chuck Flink, left, and Bob Wenner are the lead designers behind Confluence Park, which spans roughly a mile along Mud Island's most northern point. The trail along the Wolf River Greenway will formally open in September. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

That’s why she’s looking forward to the planned opening of Confluence Park on Mud Island, at the corner where Island Drive becomes North Mud Island Road.

The park, part of the planned Wolf River Greenway, is expected to be complete by late July. It promises to transform an overgrown “trash pile” into a 1.2-mile trail for runners, walkers and cyclists, among others.

“I think that’d be great. I think that area is just an overgrown patch of wasted space. So if they did put a trail up there, many, many people run and/or walk Downtown, up and down Mud Island,” said Yarrow, 41 and anxious to get back to running. “I would add it to my walking or running route. I would add that to the distance I would run.”

After the Wolf River Conservancy acquired the 250 or so acres for the park, construction began last December, said Chuck Flink, a senior adviser with Alta Planning and Design, based in Portland, Oregon. Flink is the park’s primary designer.

That acreage had long been used as a dumping ground, Flink said, necessitating cleanup in addition to actually constructing the park.

“It was a dumping ground. It was a trash pile,” he said. “This project has transformed this from a trash dump into a park.”

Now that park is on schedule to open Sept. 9 with a family-friendly pop-up festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Confluence Park will include several amenities, said Flink and Bob Wenner, the conservancy’s chief financial officer. The 1.2-mile path will be looped through the park and will feature concrete or asphalt trails measuring either 10 or 12 feet wide. When some foliage is cleared, the trail will offer views of the Wolf River.

The park will include picnic tables, benches, a bicycle repair station and bike racks. Public art may eventually be a component of the park, Flink said. Much of the acreage remains undisturbed woodlands, officials said.

Confluence Park is the westernmost point on this map showing completed and future sections of the Wolf River Greenway. (Submitted)

No water fountains or bathrooms have been installed, Flink said.

Officials hope the park’s ample space will eventually make it a spot for events such as barbecues, outdoor yoga and special races, among others.

“What I’m hoping is the citizens now take advantage of this landscape,” Flink said. “(We’re) creating this corridor for people to go out and enjoy.”

Although the park doesn’t include any lighting, it has been designed to be as safe as possible, Flink said. This includes environmental design meant to provide good viewpoints and sightlines as well as some fencing to separate the park from the road and the Wolf River.

With its natural setting, the park also promises encounters with wildlife. Deer are abundant in that area, as are a less friendly presence: snakes.

“That’ll just make you pedal faster,” Wenner said with a laugh.

The new park fits in well with what’s already been planned to link Downtown’s various paths, trails and walkways, said Benny Lendermon, president of the Riverfront Development Corp. The RDC has been working on what is being called the “Riverline,” a project meant to eventually stretch from the Big River Crossing over the Mississippi to Confluence Park.

The Riverline will include the Big River Crossing as well as the Riverbluff Walkway, Tom Lee Park, the historic cobblestones and Greenbelt Park, among others. Theoretically, Lendermon said, someone can pick up Big River Crossing in Arkansas and go all the way from there to Confluence Park in one trip.

“Eighty percent of it is in place now. Our plan is to complete a few gaps, mark it and map it with a distinguished signage system. People will know that if you’re in Greenbelt Park, it’s connected with the cobblestones, Tom Lee Park, the bluff walk and on to Big River Crossing,” Lendermon said, adding that they hope to finish the Riverline by the end of the year. “We had planned to do it anyway, but the fact that Confluence Park was moving on so fast pushed us to do it sooner.”

Confluence Park originally was planned as the beginning of what’s known as the Wolf River Greenway, proposed as a 23-mile path stretching from Downtown to Germantown. At a cost of about $55 million in both public and private funds, the entire greenway is expected to be complete by 2020, although Wenner said some land remains to be acquired.

However, due to various issues, including land acquisition, the greenway actually began in 2010 with a 1.7-mile path at Humphreys Boulevard near Baptist Memorial Hospital. Two years later, that section was connected with trails in Germantown.

Now, two more sections of the Wolf River Greenway are under construction: The $1.2 million Epping section in Northeast Memphis is roughly a mile long and is expected to be complete in late September, while the $2.2 million Kennedy Park section near Raleigh is about 2.2 miles long and should be complete in November.

While these three new sections will all be standalone parts of the trail for now, eventually everything will be linked up, officials said, allowing someone to basically walk or bike from one end of the county to the other.

“It’s made a lot of headway. It’s a big project,” Flink said. “It’s one of the biggest (such) projects in the United States.”

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