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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Wolf River Conservancy's Greenway trail will be a dream come true for Memphis and Shelby County

Wolf River Conservancy’s Greenway trail will be a dream come true for Memphis and Shelby County
By:  Michael Lander

The greenline and greenway trails in and around Memphis
are extremely popular with cyclists and others.  More
people are expected to ride, walk, and run on them,
especially after the Wolf River Greenway trail is
completed in 2019.

Good things, we are often told, come to those who wait. 

For runners, walkers, and cyclists looking for a trail system, that is unlike any other, that wait may not be very much longer.

Beginning this year, the Wolf River Conservancy will embark upon a three-year project that will ultimately provide them with a
greenway trail that will likely be a dream come true for many of them.

For over 30 years, the
conservancy has been dedicated to protecting, preserving, and enhancing the Wolf River, and its watershed, and with ensuring that it will be available for exploration, recreation, and for the educational opportunities of this unique area now and in the future.

Construction of the
Wolf River Greenway trail from Humphrey’s Blvd westward to the Mississippi River will begin this year and it is expected to be completed by 2019.

The trail was first conceived soon after the conservancy was first
founded in 1985 by members of this fledgling non-profit organization. 

These members (or what some might call visionaries) immediately began the quest to have one long, continuous trail and wildlife corridor that would essentially follow along the
Wolf River as it meandered its way around and through the city of Memphis.        

Decades later, this vision or dream for a greenway trail is finally on its way to becoming a reality thanks to the conservancy, the
City of Memphis, and the many others who have, in one way or another, been actively involved in the process of making that dream a reality.

Chuck Flink (in a red striped shirt on the left) and Andy Hays (in the blue shirt
on the right) are with Alta Planning + Design and the two have met, talked
with, addressed concerns, and answered many questions at public meetings
with the first of these held in October 2015.

“The Wolf River Greenway project is the culmination of years of hard work by many volunteers and professionals who share a vision for the corridor.  We have had an overwhelmingly positive response from just about every neighborhood that we have touched and I am absolutely ecstatic to be a part of it,” 
Andy Hays said.

Hays is an Alta Planning + Design Memphis Design Associate who has been active in planning greenways, trail projects, and urban design projects for over 20 years like the Shelby Farms Greenline, the Harahan Bridge, extensions of the Bluffwalk downtown, and now the Wolf River Greenway.

Since October 2015, the Wolf River Conservancy, along with the planning, engineering, and design firm that they hired 18 months ago,
Alta Planning + Design, has been hosting public meetings and open house workshops concerning the much-anticipated Wolf River Greenway trail.

The trail will run to and from the
Mississippi River in downtown Memphis to Collierville, traversing urban and natural areas along the way, where it will connect Memphis area residents and their communities to one another, and it will intersect with other local area trails like the ever-popular Shelby Farms Greenline.

Shelby Farms Park Conservancy Executive Director, Laura Adam, and the
Wolf River Conservancy Executive Director, Keith Cole, listen to the Alta
Planning + Design Senior Advisor, Chuck Flink, as he discusses a new
proposed route in the Lucius Burch State Park area on December 8,
2015 public meeting.

The most recent public meeting on the greenway took place at
Ducks Unlimited National Headquarters on Tuesday, December 8, 2015. 

The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy Executive Director,
Laura Adams briefly spoke about the cooperative relationship between Shelby Farms Park and the Wolf River Conservancy and its executive director, Keith Cole, spoke about the history of his organization and its efforts for a greenway trail. 

Chuck Flink
, who is the Senior Advisor for Alta Planning + Design, and who has been involved with 725 greenway projects in 36 states and half-a-dozen of them around the world, also spoke and he provided some recent updates on the trail system, itself, and a new proposed route for the trail in the 728-acrea Lucius E. Burch, Jr. State Natural Area (LBSNA) that is part of the 4,500 acres within Shelby Farms Park.

Originally, the Wolf River Greenway trail was planned to run alongside of
Interstate 240, on the west side of the Wolf River.  However, after members of Alta Planning + Design went out to survey the site, they found that, because of its extremely close proximity to the interstate, the area was a far less than ideal location for the trail and that it would, therefore, not provide for a pleasant and enjoyable experience for those walking, running, or riding a bike on it.

Cyclists will have a wide variety of scenery to look at
after the 36-mile Wolf River Greenway trail is
completed, which will connect many neighborhoods
and communities from downtown Memphis to

“The trail alignment on the west side of the Wolf River is very close to the highly congested interstate that is undergoing expansion.  The remaining buffer between the edge of the road pavement, and possible location of the Wolf River Greenway, is so small that future trail users would be negatively impacted by the noise and speed of nearby traffic,” Hays said.

“To build the Greenway on the west side of the river will require extensive structural solutions, of roughly the same cost as a route through the Lucius Birch State Natural Area (LBSNA).  We prefer to route the trail through a portion of the LBSNA because it is a much more enjoyable, trail-like experience – enjoyable for a wide range of trail users.  We respect that the LBSNA is already in use by mountain bike riders and pedestrians and are hoping to find a route and alignment for the Greenway that will be acceptable for all concerns,” he added.

With that being the case, an alternative and potentially more desirable route through the
Lucius Burch area was drawn up by Alta Planning + Design that would cross over the Wolf River and would follow along the eastern portion of it instead.

Chuck Flink, of Alta Planning + Design, met with many who attended public
meetings on the Wolf River Greenway trail.  Many of the maps and images
of what some areas currently look like, or will look like after the trail is
completed, were put on display.

Flink said that a bridge (going east and west) over the Wolf River would be incorporated into this new proposed route and that it would cost about $700 thousand, but that it could run even more if a more elaborate design for the bridge was desired.

Since the new route would affect existing mountain bike trails,
Flink also said that there would be a need to help resolve any potential conflicts by working with and getting input from those who ride through that area.

Hays said that there have been alternative options that have been looked at, like one that would have gone along the
MLG&W easement, but that the northern portion has a significant amount of wetland as does the area that would tie in to the Shelby Farms Greenline.

The route through the Lucius Burch area, Flink said, would also connect the Shelby Farms Greenline with the Wolf River Greenway, which has been a popular concept with many that they have heard from in the general public at large.

Flink said that it is the goal of everyone involved in the greenway project that the new trail would have a minimal impact on existing hiking and mountain bike trails in the Lucius Burch area and that every effort would be made to keep the current experience for users intact as much as possible.

The Wolf River Conservancy's CFO, Bob Wenner, (on the left), and Alta
Planning + Design's Chuck Flink, (on the right), answered questions at
one of about a dozen public meetings that have already taken place,
which offer area residents an opportunity to meet and talk with
members of the conservancy and with designers of the Wolf River

In order to make that happen, Flink would like his firm to work with and communicate with those who have a vested interest in preserving what they have at Lucius Burch.  Representatives from Alta Planning + Design are also willing to go out and ride through the area that will be impacted to see and discuss what could be done to resolve any potential conflicts.

“We will be doing a field session in the LBSNA area with various stakeholder groups to help resolve the conceptual alignments that we have presented in public meetings.  They were presented as conceptual so that we could engage the public and, in particular, user groups in the design process.  We will outline our reasoning for the approach we have taken, and get input on the actual field alignment that would be acceptable to the user groups,” Hays said.

“We will always have persons who are concerned about changing the existing environment, but we welcome their input and will work to resolve the best routing and opportunities for the greater community,” Hays added.

Bob Wenner agreed with Hays and echoed the Wolf River Conservancy’s interest in addressing any concerns or reservations by all those who may be impacted by the proposed rerouting of the greenway trail.

Andy Hays is the Memphis Design Associate for Alta Planning + Design and
he brings a local perspective, with a considerable amount of experience, to
the Wolf River Greenway project.

Wenner is the Wolf River Conservancy’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) who has also overseen the conservancy’s land conservation projects, which has included land acquisition/disposition, and conservation easements.

“We have received a lot of input from the users of the mountain bike trails and they have suggested that we consider some alternate routing, which we intend to look at.  The exact routing is yet to be determined,” Wenner said.

As it exists today, the newly proposed route for the greenway trail would intersect with the Bandit trail in three spots and would intersect and merge with a part of the blue trail in the Lucius Burch area before connecting with the Shelby Farms Greenline trail.

The proposed material for the boardwalk portions of the greenway trail, Flink said, is a
concrete system known as PermaTrak.  The decision to go with this type of material over other options is that it has the least amount of impact on any environmentally-sensitive landscape and it helps in reducing any potential detrimental impact that other materials might have on surface level tree roots. 

In addition to this, the concrete material is also slip resistant, it is easier to keep clean, it lasts longer than wood and is not susceptible to termites, and it is durable enough to allow construction and maintenance equipment to work on others parts of the boardwalk from any existing portion of the boardwalk itself.

The bridge over the Wolf River near Humphreys Blvd., and south of Shelby
Farms Park, currently provides the only means for cyclists and pedestrians
to access both locations via the existing trail system.

“PermaTrak is a very durable, long-lasting and easy to install product.  It can be installed from the boardwalk itself so there is minimal disturbance to the surrounding environment and it will require less maintenance,” Hays said.

Even though it will be necessary to have some railings on some of the boardwalks for the greenway trail, these will be held to a minimum, according to Flink.

Whatever is installed will be the least visually intrusive as possible and the railing design will be determined by how high the trail is from the ground, Flink said.

The greenway trail, itself, will be completed in multiple stages according to Flink and, in some cases, some portions may not be immediately connected to anything else.

Alta Planning + Design will also be under an aggressive timeline in order to finish the project by 2019, Flink said, and that it will probably seem like it is controlled chaos to outsiders looking in.

“We are very excited to have most of the phases of design at or near 100 percent completion,” Hays said.

“We anticipate getting three to four phases under construction in the coming months.  Once this starts, we know the public will be very excited about this project,” he added.

For those who are interested in following the progress of the project, the Wolf River Conservancy will upload information on to the webpage and will publish a schedule for completion of each phase at:

Alta Planning + Design engineers are looking to install
a concrete boardwalk, known as PermaTrak, at
various locations on the expanded Wolf River
Greenway trail, which is more durable and more
slip-resistant than wooden boardwalks are.

Aside from determining the route that the trail will take through the Lucius Burch area, there are other issues that will also need to be addressed, which most notably, includes an invasion of
Chinese Privet.  This invasive species of plant dominates areas where it is not controlled and the ecological system at Lucius Burch is suffering because of it, Flink said.

The solution for remedying this problem is to
remove the privet, which includes clearing it, grounding it up, and treating it with Element 4.  After that, Flink said, the Lucius Burch area should be restored, and it can be followed up with reforestation, which should make the forested area healthier and more diverse.

The Lucius Burch area and, the rest of the Wolf River Greenway, will have signage, some of which will be informational and educational in nature with others that will indicate direction and safety-related information such as right-of-way and upcoming trail crossings. 

For those asking what they can do to help, Keith Cole said that people can show their support by
volunteering, donating, or by becoming a member of the conservancy.  They can also raise awareness, become public ambassadors, and talk with their elected officials about their support of the Wolf River Conservancy.

“The project would not be possible if not for the support of local funders, such as individuals, foundations, corporations, and the City of Memphis, itself,” Wenner said.

After the Wolf River Greenway project is completed, cyclists will be able to
travel on a trail system to and from Collierville to downtown Memphis and
across the Harahan Bridge to West Memphis, Ark.

“Donations are the life blood of any non-profit organization so we encourage monthly giving or one-time gifts, which can be made online at:,” Wenner added. 

People can also help, Cole said, by attending public meetings, providing their input, and by taking the time to complete a survey.  The online public survey
for the Wolf River is: 

“The Wolf River Greenway will be the major east-west greenway trail across Shelby County.  It will provide a safe connection from downtown, North Memphis, Raleigh, Frayser, East Memphis and connecting it with Germantown and Collierville.  I think that the ability to connect neighborhoods together around a landscape along the Wolf River will become something special for Memphis and Shelby County,” Wenner said.

There are a lot of great things to love and appreciate in Memphis and Shelby County and one day, in the not-so-distance future, that will also have to include the
Wolf River Greenway.

1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful news and will be a tremendous boost for the area. 2019 is not that far away and I hope the project stays on track. a 36 mile trail as described would be a very enjoyable ride. Thank you Wolf River Greenway !!