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Friday, June 19, 2015

Shelby Farms Park improvements and expansion of its greenline will make it one of the best urban parks in the U.S.

Shelby Farms Park improvements and expansion of its greenline will make it one of the best urban parks in the U.S.
By:  Michael Lander

Shelby Farms Park is currently undergoing major renovations,
which will significantly improve the look and feel of this
popular Memphis City Park.  One of the many renovations
will include turning Patriot Lake (in the background) into
one of the park's key centerpieces for visitors.

If
Shelby Farms Park isn’t already seen as being one of the best urban parks in the U.S., and isn’t already viewed as one of the best places to visit in Memphis, it surely will be after the latest multi-million dollar improvements are made to it over the next year. 

For decades, the park has been an extremely popular location and gathering place for those who live in and around our city as well as for those who are visiting the area.

The
Trust for Public Land’s 2014 list of the most visited city parks in the U.S. estimated 1,784,400 annual visitors to the 34th largest urban area park in the country.

Even though many may choose to drive a car to and from this beautiful city park, one of the best ways to actually travel in, around, and out of the park is by bicycle on one of two existing multi-use trails.

In spite of the construction currently taking place at Shelby
Farms Park, cyclists continue to ride in and around the ever-
popular city park.

The first of the trails connecting the park to the rest of our community was the
Shelby Farms Greenline, which was completed in October 2010.  It currently runs 6.4 miles from Tillman in Binghampton to the intersection of Mullins Station and Farm Road.

Later that same year, Shelby Farms Park was made even more accessible to cyclists, runners, and walkers when the Wolf River Pedestrian Bridge was constructed just to the south of the park, near Humphrey's Blvd.  Almost two years after that, in September 2012, this and the Germantown Greenway were connected with one another thereby extending the trail past Germantown Road. 

The go-ahead for further expansion of the Shelby Farms Greenline came on June 22, 2015 when the
Shelby County Commission, approved a $1,442,236.00 contract to Wagner General Contractors of Memphis for a 4.1 mile extension of the existing trail.

The resolution for this project had been sponsored by the Chairman of Public Works Committee, Commissioner George Chism, and it includes a $95 thousand contingency amount for construction. There was $140,097 in private donor funds for this project, along with federal and state grant funds, and general operating funds included for a total authorized expenditure of $1,560,776.00.  

Cycling is just one of many activities that regularly take
place throughout the park and, even with a considerable
amount of work taking place, visitors still have access
to most parts of the 4,500 acre park.

With this addition, the trail will extend eastward from Mullins Station and Farm Rd to the former railroad depot in Cordova thus making it 10.5 miles long, altogether. 

Construction of a further 2.3 mile eastward expansion from the railroad depot or rail house to Lenow Road should begin sometime around August 2017.

The trail follows along a former railroad line that was owned and operated by
CSX Transportation.  The effort to convert this, and other former railroad lines, to multi-use trails is known as a rails-to-trails initiative.    

Construction for this latest project is set to begin in July and will take about a year to complete.  The funding for this primarily came from a $3.3 million federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality program grant that was awarded to Shelby County in 2011.

Click on the following link to view the Shelby Farms Greenline expansion with the Germantown Parkway Crossing.

The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, (with a public and private partnership with Shelby Country Government), oversees and manages all of the operations within the park and its greenline trail. 

The Shelby Farms Greenline currently ends at Mullin Station
and Farm Rd., but it is expected to be extended to Cordova in
2016.

Over the years, the conservancy has placed a special emphasis on providing cycling-related amenities and access to the park. 

“Improving cycling accessibility has been a priority since Shelby Farms Park Conservancy’s (SFPC’s) establishment.  In addition to building the Shelby Farms Greenline and Wolf River Pedestrian Bridge to connect cyclists and pedestrians into the park, we have built miles of new paved trails to establish a connection between the greenline and bridge to the Wolf River and Germantown Greenways,” Betsy Peterson said.

Peterson is the Development and Communications Coordinator for the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. 

“There will also be a separated use trail around a newly expanded Patriot Lake – The Promenade for walking and the Cycle Path for faster traffic,” she added. 

The Shelby Farms Greenline offers some beautiful scenery
to its visitors, especially in the spring when things like
wisteria is blooming.

Even with an enormous amount of construction, and fewer cycling amenities yet in place, the greenline and the park, itself, still sees a considerable amount of cyclists.

“The average number of cyclists we see ride through the greenline is right around 500 per day,” Peterson said.

Tracking the number of cyclists is done with
Eco-Counters that are placed at the parks entryways.  The counters provide the conservancy with data that includes the time and type of traffic (whether it is an automobile, pedestrian, or a cyclist) coming in and out of the park.

One of the more recently added amenities to the park, and to the trails, were four
bike repair stations.  The stations provide a raised bike stand, an air pump, and a few tools for minor repairs.  Conway Services helped to provide funding for these.

Shelby Farms Park is not only popular with runners, walkers,
and cyclists, but also with those who, among other things,
like to go boating or fishing, too.

“The response from the cycling community over the bike repair stations has been overwhelming positive.  Many cycling groups use one of the stations as a meeting place and they all appear to be getting used regularly.  Before, if a cyclist had a breakdown, they would have to wait for someone to come help them, but now they are able to do the repairs themselves,” Cameron Mann said.

Mann is the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy Development Manager.

For those without a bicycle, they need not worry because Shelby Farms Park also offers the chance for visitors to rent one if they’d like.   The park plans to expand this
rental operation with a new facility that will be located near the new Visitor Center in 2016.

Visitors to the park will find a new enclosure for the buffalo,
which gives them more area to roam than what they
previously had.

In addition to the two trails leading to and from Shelby Farms Park, there are miles of trails in and around the 4,500 acres within the park.

“Shelby Farms Park is home to more than 40 miles of trails that SFPC Park Rangers work to maintain.  This massive and ever-expanding trails system is also maintained with the help of volunteers, grant funds, and our park members,” Peterson said.

The
Mid-South Trails Association assists the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy with maintaining, restoring, and improving any existing trails.

“The Mid-South Trails Association is a local organization, recently granted their 501(c)(3) non-profit status that helps SFPC maintain safe and healthy trails, particularly the unpaved trails in our Lucius Burch Jr. Natural Area,” Peterson said.

The temporary visitor's center is currently inside a trailer
(to the right) with a new one expected to be built
overlooking Patriot Lake by the fall of 2016.  The
park's Woodland Discovery Playground is on the
left and it was completed in 2011.

“SFPC received a $40 thousand grant from the
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to restore our most popular unpaved trail – the Tour de Wolf.  The renovations include remedying erosion, rerouting the trail to provide views of hidden lakes and wildlife areas as well as constructing boardwalks over low, wet areas.  This work is underway and is expected to be completed by the end of 2015,” she added. 

On the other side of Shelby Farms Park, across Walnut Grove, is
Shelby Farms BMX, which is managed by track operator, Brian Donnelly.  The track and the facilities were completely rebuilt in 2014 with a new registration and concession area.  Riders of all ages and abilities are welcomed to compete after they receive their USABMX membership. 

The Wolf River Pedestrian Bridge was constructed and opened
up for public use in 2010 and it provides a means for people
to travel to and from Shelby Farms Park and to its greenline
with miles of beautiful and natural scenery for those to see
who traverse it.

Along with many places and ways to ride a bike, the park also offers opportunities to go boating, fishing,
horseback riding, a woodland discovery playground for the kids, a chance to experience a treetop adventure, a place to watch buffalo, to play paintball and laser tag or disc golf, to visit an Agricenter, and more.  It also hosts special events throughout the year.

“We hold a
duathlon on the trail in March and we have the Memphis Outdoor Festival and race in October.  We are always looking into options for races after our trails are fully renovated and we are looking into major events to host in the Heart of the Park, in general, once that opens in the fall of 2016,” Kate Phillips said.

Phillips is the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy Facility Sales Manager.

Cyclists riding in and around Shelby Farms Park have
four bike repair stations available to them should they
pull a flat or have other minor repairs that they need to
do on their bikes.

The park is currently in the second stage of a four stage enhancement and renovation project that is known as the “Heart of the Park.” The $52 million budget covers all phases of the construction.

The first, known as the “Green Phase” created a new main entrance, new trails and roadways, and a new buffalo pasture, and more. 

The second or “Blue Phase” includes an expansion and rehabilitation of Patriot Lake from 52 to 80 acres and making it a new and vibrant centerpiece for the park.  Overlooking the lake will be a new visitor center with a café, gift shop, a large porch, and a
Farm-to-Table restaurant.  This second phase is scheduled to be completed in a little over a year.

“The
Heart of the Park enhancements are on schedule and on budget and it is expected to be completed and to open by the fall of 2016.  People can watch this exciting project take shape by tracking phases of the construction on our website at http://www.shelbyfarmspark.org/heartofthepark,” Peterson said.

Shelby Farms Park has a small bicycle rental place near
Mullins Station and Farm Rd.  This will remain in its
current location, but an additional bike rental facility
will open with the Heart of the Park in the fall of 2016.

The price for the renovations to the park has not come cheap, but when it is finished, the conservancy staff is confident that visitors will think it was well worth the expense.

“Park improvements made to date are part of the first phase of the Shelby Farms Park Master Plan, established in 2008.  The $70 million project includes the Shelby Farms Greenline (in 2010), the Wolf River Pedestrian Bridge (also in 2010), the Woodland Discovery Playground (in 2011), the gateway signage and major tree plantings, and the Heart of the Park, which is currently underway,” Peterson said.

“Additional improvements to trails, the Greenline Gardens, and our lakes are funded through grants or are part of park operations.  We work hard to privately raise more than $2 million each year, more than 75 percent of our annual operating budget, to keep the park clean, green, and safe,” she added.

The iconic "I Love Memphis" mural can be found along
the Shelby Farms Greenline.  Remnants of the rails, and
the wooden railroad ties, can still be found left over
from the days that rail cars traveled along these
tracks.

Shelby Farms Park has had a long and fascinating
history, having begun with dreams of a commune in 1825, later becoming a penal farm from 1929 to 1964, and is, today, one of Memphis’ most beloved and frequently visited parks in town. 

With all of the work being done now, and in the years ahead, Shelby Farms Park has a very bright future ahead as it becomes an even greater attraction for cyclists and others from Memphis and beyond.

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