Walking, biking, running, hiking, swinging, fishing, splashing, relaxing, and playing….what more could you want? Perhaps a free bike repair station and Water Play Sprayground, or summer stargazing and a treetop adventure course? Whatever you enjoy doing in the great outdoors, you are likely to find it at Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, Tenn.
Spanning 4,500 acres, Shelby Farms Park was The Land Trust’s first big project in West Tennessee and its first-ever public park project. “It was a way to make a real impact for conservation in West Tennessee,” said Emily, The Land Trust’s Vice President of Conservation. “It’s been exciting ever since to have watched the park transform into an amazing place for Memphis and to see Shelby Farms Park Conservancy grow from one staff member to almost 40.”
Prior to becoming a park, the land was home to a prison farm where penal labor was used to produce agricultural goods and services. In the 1960s, the Shelby County Government planned to sell the land but could not agree on its future use. A concrete idea soon arose to develop the land into a planned community, an idea that turned into a hotly-contested public debate for years.¹
A grassroots campaign – led by active citizens, community foundations, and local officials – formed around a vision to transform the land into a world-class park. After years of research and planning and millions of investment dollars raised, campaign partners wanted to ensure that the park would always remain a park. Project leaders began looking for a group with the capacity to hold a conservation easement on the land and eventually entered into a partnership with The Land Trust, adding a layer of permanent protection to the park.
The effort of this visionary campaign resulted in the permanent protection of the park in February 2007, when the Shelby County Government granted a conservation easement on 4,100 acres of the park to The Land Trust. Emily recalls her first impression of the land when visiting in the fall of 2006 versus her impression when visiting now: “You could tell it used to be a farm and that it really needed some new energy, which everybody realized. Now you’re in a sophisticated, ultra-modern, urban park.”
In the early years, The Land Trust was heavily involved in a continuous, planning phase with Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, determining how the parkland would be used while protecting its conservation values. Over a decade later, the park’s master plan is fully underway, enabling the park to grow on its own. For example, Agricenter International, which is located on the southeast portion of the property, is now beginning to develop its own master plan. As a part of its continual partnership, The Land Trust is assisting this effort, designed to guide the growth of this education, business, and research hub for agriculture in the Mid-South.
“What makes this project unique is the very active, moving, breathing partnership between The Land Trust and the Conservancy,” says Emily. “The park is constantly evolving.”
Now one of the largest urban parks in the country, the people at Shelby Farms Park describe it best when they say, “The Park is both a vibrant community hub and a retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life.”²
Read more history on the park here:
- “How Shelby Farms Went from Prison to Park”, Memphis Magazine
- “How Shelby Farms Park came to be”, WMN Action News 5
All photos courtesy of Shelby Farms Park Conservancy/Rebecca Dailey
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