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VOL. 133 | NO. 157 | Thursday, August 9, 2018

Making a Splash

New amenities turn urban park into more popular destination

By Don Wade

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Jen Andrews’ office is in the northwest corner of the visitor center at Shelby Farms Park. The office’s huge windows give her an expansive view of the park. But it’s also two-way glass. On the outside of that glass, at a certain height, are smudges where children have pressed their foreheads and dogs have jumped up with their paws.

An enthusiastic Jeremy Bernal plays in the spray at Shelby Farms’ splash park, one of the popular improvements to the park opened recently as part of the Heart of the Park project. (Daily News/Jim Weber)

“Adults try to pretend they can’t see me,” said Andrews, who is CEO of Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. “Kids don’t even pretend.”

Not that she minds. Andrews is the executive caretaker of the 4,500 acres that make up Shelby Farms Park. If people and pets want to tap on the window during a visit, that’s fine. If they’re happy, she’s happy.

On Sept. 1, 2016, at 9:01 a.m. – “The date was an accident, but once we realized we had to do the ribbon cutting at 9:01” – the “Heart of the Park” expansion project was christened.

It was a more than $50 million investment and the first phase of the conservancy’s master plan.

“I was nervous,” Andrews said. “Because we had learned through building the playground, the Greenline, and the pedestrian bridge – the first few projects that we did – that even when you’re really thoughtful and really careful with design and public engagement and operations plans, when it comes to public space you cannot anticipate everything. Because people are the X-factor.

“Trails are really popular. Way more people are renting boats and bikes than we anticipated (an average of 200 boat rentals on a summer Saturday).”

The “Heart of the Park” project was nothing if not ambitious. James Corner Field Operations served as the master planner, winning an international competition in 2007 to earn the job. As JCFO principal-in-charge Richard Kennedy told architecturalrecord.com: “We were struck by how immersive the park was—the scale was hard to fathom.”

Shelby Farms on Aug. 1. It’s been nearly two years since Patriot Lake was expanded from 55 to 80 acres. (Daily News/Patrick Lantrip)

 

Nearly two years later, Shelby Farms Park is simultaneously what it always was – a place to run or bike on a trial, play disc golf, go fishing, walk your dog or play with your kids – and also a new creation where summertime means Movie Nights, Canoes & Cocktails (in that order), expanded fitness programming, including such things as yoga and karate, more field trips for schools and new revenue for the nonprofit Conservancy from the FedEx Events Center.

Jim Kennedy (center) leads his weekly strength and balance class on the front porch at the Shelby Farms visitors center on July 31. The state-funded class geared toward helping people who suffer from diabetes meets weekly at the park. (Daily News/Jim Weber)

 

For Fiscal Year 2019, the park’s budget is $5.1 million. The Conservancy receives $825,000 per year from Shelby County.

“Everything else we have raise on our own and it’s a big lift every year,” Andrews said. “We’ve been really successful in fundraising for operations, but our goal over time was to build out the earned revenue piece to be more sustainable and the event center’s doing really well.”

Wedding receptions, corporate outings and retreats, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, and even the announcement that the Memphis would be getting a World Golf Championships tournament in 2019 have taken place there.

The conservancy continues to use a six-year Project Diabetes Grant for $432,600 for free fitness programming, engaging with underserved schools and communities, and to build a fitness station that will fit with cross country running.

“We target underserved communities that are high-risk of childhood obesity or diabetes as part of that grant,” she said. “That’s a big part of our program goal, to get as many kids here as possible.”

Other park updates include:

Hyde Lake is again open for fishing. The former Patriot Lake was expanded from 52 to 80 acres in the park renovation and enhancements. Originally, fishing was to be suspended for three years. The lake was stocked with bass, catfish, bream, bluegill and buffalo fish (state fishing license required). Fishing is allowed from designated areas on shore or in non-motorized craft.

“There are some huge fish in that lake,” she said.

Smaller, healthier buffalo herd. The herd used to number around 20, but now counts at about a dozen.

“When we first took over the park they were pretty inbred and had been in the same little piece of land for a long time,” Andrews said. “When we were designing the lake, we designed them a new pasture. It has a wooded area where they’ve created their own trials. If you’re on the Chickasaw Trail you’ll walk along the edge of it. They’ve got a little watering hole that you can’t see, but it’s just a better area.”

And yes, you can still adopt a buffalo. Go to http://shelbyfarms2016.sitewrench.com/support-the-buffalo. If you wish to “join the herd” as a park member, go to http://shelbyfarms2016.sitewrench.com/membership.

Deer population still large. Shelby Farms Park has never had a controlled hunt to bring down the population of deer and there are no plans to have one.

“They can eat a lot of different things and they do,” Andrews said. “In the park it’s been difficult to get a handle on the population because unlike the buffalo, the deer are not in an enclosed environment.”

Visitors are most likely to see deer in the Wolf River Trail woods or the woods on the north part of the park.

“We don’t fully understand how the deer move through the region,” she said. “We know they move up and down the Wolf River. We planted 3,000 trees and a bunch of shrubs as part of Heart of the Park. We were curious to see if deer destroyed a lot of them and they didn’t. We’ve also done some strategic plantings in other parts of the park to lure them to other places.”

Snakes in the grass. Actually, you could see a snake in the water or in the dirt or on a rock, too. The park has two venomous types: copperheads and water moccasins.

“Timber rattlesnakes occur statewide, persisting only in areas where human occupation and disturbance are minimal,” according to www.tennsnakes.org.

There are not, however, any rattlesnakes in Shelby Farms Park.

“To our knowledge,” Andrews said.

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