The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy has pledged to plant a million new trees in Shelby Farms Park, but in late March, the group was responsible for cutting down trees.
A 50-foot-wide area of trees near the park's BMX track was clear-cut to allow access for construction equipment needed to build a pedestrian bridge. But the construction zone cuts through the Wolf River trail system. And that has a group of trail users up in arms.
"[Those trails are] an area where many people in Memphis go to get away from the concrete," said Billy Simpson, a member of the newly formed Friends of the Wolf River Trails. "The people who are upset understand that the park has plans to make it more accessible to all of Memphis, and that's a great thing. But the construction is abhorrent."
The construction zone includes a wide gravel access road that cuts through the Yellow Trail, one of four connecting narrow dirt paths. Before one reaches the construction area, cedars, oaks, and magnolia trees line the shady path.
About a mile into the trail, however, the shady space gives way to a clear-cut area marked by piles of sand and a gravel road constructed to allow heavy equipment onto the river's edge.
Laura Adams, deputy director of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, said she understands the concerns of trail users. But Adams maintains that the conservancy is going about construction in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
By building the access road around the old landfill and BMX area, Adams said the least amount of trees were impacted.
"We are environmentalists. We don't like to cut any trees down," Adams said. "Our unwavering commitment is to not only cut as few trees down as possible but to restore forests and habitat."
Currently, pedestrians and cyclists must cross the busy Walnut Grove overpass into the park. The pedestrian bridge will allow them safer access into the park, connecting both the Wolf River Greenway and the Greater Memphis Greenline.
"After the bridge is constructed, we're going to go back in and plant new hardwood trees," Adams said. "The gravel [construction access road] will be reduced to a 10-foot-wide multi-use pedestrian path that connects to Farm Road and up to the Patriot Lake trail."
The Friends of the Wolf River Trails feel too large an area was clear-cut for the bridge's construction.
"If this is how they're going to approach revitalizing this natural area, there are problems here," Simpson said. "They've brought heavy equipment into a very delicate zone and clear-cut for what will eventually be an eight-foot path. There are better ways to do things."