Deep in the heart of Raleigh, hidden away behind two large apartment complexes that face James Road, is a 66-acre oasis of lush vegetation, fish-filled ponds, and a portion of the Wolf River.
The property, once home to a now-demolished country club, is known as Epping Way, and its natural state and proximity to the Wolf have made it an ideal location to kick off construction of the 22-some-odd-mile connector to the existing Wolf River Greenway trail near Shelby Farms.
Construction of the greenway, which will eventually follow the path of the Wolf from downtown to Collierville (and possibly beyond), is happening in small segments, and the .8-mile stretch at Epping Way is the first segment to be constructed after the project was announced last fall. The Wolf River Conservancy, which is spearheading the project, plans to connect downtown's Mud Island to the existing 2.6-mile Wolf River Greenway near Walnut Grove and Shady Grove via a continuous asphalt cycling and walking trail.
"This is the first privately funded section of the greenway. We started here because the conservancy already owned the land, so there were no right-of-way issues, and it's a fairly straightforward section from a construction standpoint," said Bob Wenner, the conservancy's Wolf River Greenway coordinator.
When the Epping Way section is complete in January, it will include an asphalt trail, two pedestrian bridges crossing streams that connect with the Wolf, and benches. Last week, a construction crew from local, woman-owned firm A & B Construction Company was on-site at Epping Way clearing out brush and debris with a backhoe. A & B has experience with park construction, having recently constructed trails at Audubon Park.
"We're in the demo phase now. We just took out some tennis courts and asphalt parking lots, and now we're preparing the area for the greenway," said Heather Page, vice-president of A & B. "It should take about a month or so to demo the entire area."
Those tennis courts and an old swimming pool that's also been torn out were part of the former Epping Forest Club, which operated on the property from the late 1970s to the early '80s.
In 1948, wild-game hunter and Memphis cotton merhcant Berry Brooks purchased more than 200 acres at Epping Way and used the land to raise peacocks and cattle. He lived in a large mansion on the property that was known as Epping Forest Manor.
Brooks, who ran a cotton business for 53 years, used his profits to go on African safaris and hunt elephants, giraffe, and other wildlife. In 1948, he donated 41 animal heads to the Memphis Pink Palace Museum for the Berry B. Brooks African Hall exhibit, which was on view until 1975. Most of Brooks' wild-game trophies have since been auctioned off.
Brooks sold most of the property in 1972, and construction on the country club began soon after. After the club closed in the 1980s, the site sat vacant for years. It was donated to Memphis City Schools (MCS) in 2007, and the school system razed the old club and filled in the pool. But MCS didn't do much else with the property. After the school merger, Shelby County Schools donated the property to the conservancy.
"We used to bring school kids out here for environmental education," Wenner said. "The greenway will make that easier to do in the future."
The next construction phase, a mile segment on the north end of Mud Island, went out for bid last week. Wenner said construction on the greenway will occur piecemeal, based on what sites get permitted first.
"It won't all be connected until that very last piece is done," Wenner said. "But there may be some temporary routes on-street. The plan is to get it all done by mid-2019 or, at the latest, 2020."