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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wolf River Conservancy is working to expand the Wolf River Greenway from downtown Memphis to Collierville

Wolf River Conservancy is working to expand the Wolf River Greenway from downtown Memphis to Collierville
By:  Michael Lander

The existing Wolf River Greenway has approximately 800 users
on their trail each day according to the Wolf River Conservancy.
They use black box technology to count them.

For decades, the
Wolf River Conservancy has helped to preserve and protect the 14,000 acres of existing land, wetlands, and wildlife habitat along the Wolf River, which also includes a substantial part of our local area’s watershed. 

They have also strived to connect people to the Wolf River and educate them about its value as a natural and sustainable resource in
Memphis as well as being a spectacular place for outdoor recreation.

Now, the conservancy, under the leadership of their executive director –
Keith Cole, is leading an effort to provide us with what could be one of the biggest quality of life improvements that the Memphis has area has seen in recent history.

According to Cole, if all goes according to plan, in five years from now, Memphis area residents will have one continuous, 36 mile linear multi-use, scenic trail that will allow runners, walkers, and cyclists the opportunity to travel to and from the Mississippi River to Germantown and Collierville and back without having to contend with or worry about vehicular traffic.

Alta Planning + Design is the planning and design firm that the conservancy has hired to plan, design, and oversee the construction of this Wolf River Greenway expansion.  Charles (Chuck) Flink is the Senior Advisor for this project and he is considered to be one of America’s best leading planners who has successfully completed greenways, trails, and open space plans in more than 235 communities across the U.S.

The Wolf River Greenway, and connecting trails, are popular with
cyclists, runners, and walkers alike.

“Alta is under contract with the Wolf River Conservancy, and is working in partnership with the City of Memphis, to lead the planning and design for the Wolf River Greenway.  We are also responsible for the public engagement work and have partnered with Pique and Archer Malmo, both of Memphis, to complete this work,” Flink said.

“We have a very talented team of local and national firms working with us on the project, including, from Memphis, ETI Corporation, Tetra Tech, Geodesy, and THY Inc.  The national firms include Alta, DHM and The Greenway Team in Denver, Colo.  Alta will serve as the lead consultant for all the work associated with this project,” Flink added.

The 18.4 mile westward extension to the existing greenway trail, which currently ends at Walnut Grove and Humphreys Blvd., will be parceled out into four segments with construction beginning on each of these at the same time.

“The first four segments of the greenway will be constructed simultaneously.  They are located at both ends of the project, with two segments in the middle.  The goal of this effort is to take on some of the least complicated phases or segments immediately, and get them built.  The entire greenway will be a very high quality project.  The trail will be 12 feet wide, and the surface of the trail will either be asphalt or concrete depending on specific design requirements,” Flink said. 

The original timetable for constructing the Wolf River Greenway trail would have taken almost 20 years to complete, but the conservancy did a full-court press to expedite the timeframe on this project and it is now expected to be done in only five years.

Trails like the Wolf River Greenway are popular with those
who are not comfortable, or feel safe, on the area's

“We were challenged to have this trail built in only five years, but we have been very fortunate to gain some much-needed funding, which has made this all possible,” Cole said.

Even though an extremely compressed timetable might seem overly ambitious to some, Flink believes that it is a very realistic target that can easily be met.

“Sure it is ambitious; however, it is achievable.  We have already accomplished a lot in the past six to nine months so we’re off to a good start.  We have divided the 18.4 mile project into 16 separate phases and we already have seven phases under design.  It is our goal to have all of the remaining phases designed and ready for construction by the middle of 2016.  That gives us about 2.5 years to finish building the remainder of the greenway,” Flink said.

“We can accomplish our ambitious schedule by awarding multiple design and construction contracts at one time so we will be simultaneously building different segments of the greenway across the length of the project.  It will seem rather chaotic at first, but we have a master plan that will come together within the stated five year timeframe,” he added.

The estimated price tag for the greenway trail is $40 million, most of which will go toward construction.

“Part of the costs for this project is in planning and design with a significant portion allocated for construction.  The majority of the lands have already been acquired, or are either state, county, or city owned so this does not factor in to the overall costs,” Cole said.

The greenway is popular with area residents and other visitors
and is likely to increase substantially after the trail connects
downtown Memphis to Collierville by the year 2020.

Here is a
link to the map depicting the anticipated location of the future Wolf River Greenway Trail.

“The Wolf River Greenway (WRG) will provide transportation, recreational, and educational links across Shelby County connecting Memphis with Germantown, Collierville, and the many other neighborhoods that cross through it.  The 26 mile Music City Bikeway (MCB) in Nashville is currently the longest in the State of Tennessee, but the WRG will be much longer when it is fully built out,” Bob Richards said.

Richards is the Tennessee Greenways and Trails Coordinator and the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) contact employee who works in the state’s Recreation Educational Services Division.

“What is unique to me about the Wolf River Greenway is the unique environment of the Wolf River and its direct connection to the Mississippi River.  Memphis is also a fabulous community and its location on the Mississippi River is one of the most unique features of the community,” Flink said.

“The proposed greenway is also unique in that it will extend through what I have been told has been a traditionally underserved area of Memphis community, specifically the North Memphis, Frayser, and Raleigh neighborhoods.  So it is good to know the quality investment will be made in these neighborhoods and that residents will have access to the greenway,” Flink added.

“This project is also unique in how it is being funded.  It is a credit to the Wolf River Conservancy and the Memphis community that so much private sector and philanthropic funding will be used to build the greenway.  We are forecasting a total project cost of around $40 million.  The bulk of those funds are coming from private sector sources and that makes this project one of the most unique in the U.S.,” he further added.

Visitors to the greenway and other area trails are
treated to some beautiful scenery, especially
along the Wolf River corridor.

If people are looking for reasons for why they should be excited about this trail, Flink has more than a few to offer them.

“The greenway is going to open outdoor access to parts of the community that very few people have ever interacted with.  There are parts of this greenway corridor that are stunningly beautiful and somewhat remote.  Most importantly, the greenway will support an active lifestyle and there is no cost or fee to use it.  It will be open to everyone to use,” Flink said.

“The greenway will also support long-distance bicycling, walking, jogging, and other non-motorized uses.  It will, additionally, support the Memphis Farm-to-Table industry.  We are also looking at ways in which it will create employment opportunities, too.  So this is more than simply building a pathway through the woods.  It is a catalytic project that will improve the lives of Memphians through a diverse offering of activities and programs,” he added.

One of the most positive aspects of this trail may come from the impact that it might have on improving conditions where there is currently poverty and blight in the Memphis area.

“We are routing the greenway through some of the more historically underserved areas of Memphis and our goal is to have a positive influence and impact on daily lives, employment, investment, and education for everyone,” Flink said.

“This project shows the vision of the leaders in Memphis and Shelby County.  The plans to connect the greenway with the Harahan Bridge project will put Memphis on the bicycling map.  The Main to Main project using the bridge as a bi-state connection will be an attraction in and of itself, and will show Memphis as a place to come and have fun and enjoy the many opportunities to see the city by bike,” Richards said.

A continuous, linear Wolf River Greenway trail will enable
cyclists to ride from downtown Memphis to Collierville
and many neighborhoods in between.

Alta Planning + Design prepared a study, entitled
“Memphis Gets Moving – Health & Economic Impacts of Building the Wolf River Greenway”, which provides all of the detailed information and benefits of this greenway trail.

As stated in the study, the greenway will connect neighborhoods from Downtown Memphis to Germantown and Collierville and it will provide an access to nature, to jobs, schools, shopping, restaurants, parks, and other attractions. 
Once it is built, the trail system will have a tremendous economic impact.  It is projected to generate at least $1.9 million in tourism spending each year, with over $250,000 in tax revenue.  It should also draw tourists as well as those looking to buy homes or open new businesses. 

Memphis currently spends 74 percent less on parks per resident than the other 50 largest metro regions in the country, but this trail may help to turn this trend around.  It should also save money on transportation costs, savings that can be realized from reduced costs associated with congestion, collisions, road maintenance, and fuel.

More important than anything, the completed greenway trail should enable Memphis area residents to get out and live more active, healthier lifestyles.  This is especially needed in a place like Memphis that has long been identified as being one of the least fit cities in the U.S.  Thirty-five percent of the adult Memphis area population, (and nine percent of low-income preschoolers) have been classified as being obese.

Trails like the Wolf River Greenway enhance the quality of life,
they can improve people's health, and can be used for
commuting purposes at a much lower cost than with a
motor vehicle.
There is ample evidence that supports the premise that parks and trails lead to increased physical activity, decreased healthcare costs, improved air quality, and it encourages a shift from energy-intensive modes of transportation to more active modes like walking and cycling.

Even though the conservancy has overcome one of the biggest hurdles and challenges in getting the extension, which is funding, there are still others that it continues to face.

“We are constantly making efforts to communicate the mission and goals of the Wolf River Conservancy, to reiterate how we want to help make Memphis a better place to live, and to ensure that the public understands the true value of what the greenway will mean to them,” Cole said.

From Flink's perspective, he sees a different set of challenges that will need to be overcome.  

“The biggest challenge is building the greenway with the floodplain of the Wolf River.  We have to design and engineer the project to withstand the tremendous forces of nature.  The project, once completed, will be designed for periodic flooding,” Flink said. 

“In addition, we also have to weave the project through an existing urban environment, which includes crossing of active railroad tracks and busy roadways.  We need to fit the project into existing residential neighborhoods.  So the challenges involve designing, engineering, and constructing a greenway trail system within the existing urban context,” Flink added.

As with any major project within a community, public engagement is always needed and that also goes for the Wolf River Greenway.

The Wolf River Greenway and other trails are an amenity
that Memphis area residents can enjoy at no monetary
cost to them.

“I hope that Memphians will plan to join us for the Wolf River Greenway public open house meetings, which will be held across the city during the weeks of October 20 and October 25.  The goal is to have residents come to the meetings, view the overall master plan and detailed design drawings and share with us their thoughts, concerns, and ideas for how to make the greenway successful,” Flink said.

“We will use a ‘drop-in’ format for all of the meetings which will make it easier for residents to attend at a time that best suits individual schedules.  We will have a variety of experts on hand to answer questions and solicit input,” Flink added.

In addition to being a leading greenway planner, Flink is also an author who, along with Robert Searn, wrote “Greenway:  A Guide to Planning, Design, and Development.”  The book has been described as an invaluable source for professionals and citizen activists. 

Flink also co-authored another book, with Kristine Olka and Robert Searns entitled, “Trails for the Twenty-first Century.”  It is said to be a step-by-step guide for planning, design and management of multi-use trails.

“When Bob Searns and I were asked to author both “Greenways” and “Trails for the Twenty-first Century,” we understood that there were no published works that offered the ‘soups to nuts’ recipe for creating greenways.  Both of us have been very surprised to learn how successful both books have become.  The Chinese have taken both volumes and completed translations that are now used as textbooks at leading universities, such as Peking University in Beijing,” Flink said.

The bridge over the Wolf River connects the Wolf River Greenway
to Shelby Farms to the north of it.

“The feedback and response to both books has vastly exceeded our expectations.  I also feel that both books have stood the test of time.  They are as relevant today as when they were first published in the early 1990’s,” Flink added.

Flink will be taking his years of knowledge and experience with him on the Wolf River Greenway project and is looking forward to this undertaking and working with the conservancy to make it happen.

“All credit is due the Wolf River Conservancy, with acknowledgement to Keith Cole and Bob Wenner, and its funding partners, in particular the Hyde Family Foundations, which has been an important supporter of this project.  I believe that the original vision for the greenway dates to the 1980’s so this project has been a work in progress.  That is not unusual for urban greenway projects,” Flink said.

The Wolf River Conservancy was initially founded in 1985 as a grassroots effort by volunteers to prevent the exploitation and destruction of the Wolf River corridor.  It was later made into a 501(c)3 non-profit that continues to offer the land and the waterway for the public to enjoy for generations to come. 
Click here to learn more about the history of the Wolf River Conservancy.

A fundraising campaign for the conservancy’s Wolf River Greenway will begin in early to mid-2016, but those who want to support this endeavor do not have to wait until then to do it.

“People can show their support today by either joining the Wolf River Conservancy or by making a donation specifically earmarking it to go to the Wolf River Greenway,” Cole said.

The Memphis area trails can be enjoyed by men, women, and
people from different walks of life, and those who are alone
or with others.  The trails can also improve the quality of
life of those who use them, it can generate business, tax
revenue, bring in tourists, offer alternative means of
transportation and it can improve air quality.

To become a member, you can go to  To make a donation, go to:

The Wolf River Conservancy, according to Cole, will be creating a unique logo and signage package after the Wolf River Greenway is completed so that those who are on the trail will know it.

When all is said and done in five years from now, the Memphis area will have one long, continuous scenic freeway made exclusively for cyclists and pedestrians to travel on and it will be something that we can all benefit from. 

In the end, it should give each of us an opportunity to improve our health and offer us an alternative means of transportation, and help make us, our quality of life, and our part of the world a whole lot better.

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