Cars parked on Overton Park's Greensward are not an uncommon sight when the Memphis Zoo parking lots fill up, but Citizens to Preserve Overton Park's (CPOP) new campaign called "Get Off Our Lawn" wants them to do just that.
The city and the zoo have long had a handshake agreement that allows parking on the Greensward, the large, wide-open field that surrounds Rainbow Lake and the park's new playground. The fight to reverse that agreement has been simmering for about as long as the agreement has been in place.
But some members of the CPOP hope to bring that fight to a boil with its new campaign. They say the damage done to the park is "unacceptable" and want the Greensward restored to "a calm public space, not a chaotic private parking lot."
CPOP member Stacey Greenberg (an occasional Flyer contributor) walked to the northern end of the grassy Greensward Thursday morning until she reached the edge of a dirt driveway — packed as hard as concrete — that leads from the zoo's parking lot to the field.
"It's sad, and you can tell it's been going on for a really long time," Greenberg said, looking at the dirt driveway. "We've all come to sort of accept this as part of the park, but it doesn't have to be. We want them to get off our lawn before it becomes a dust bowl."
When the zoo's parking lots fill up, incoming vehicles are directed to the dirt driveway and then on to the park's field, near where people picnic on blankets, walk their dogs, and let children run around. Parking on the field creates a loud, dusty environment that runs against the original, peaceful intent of the green space, Greenberg said. On a busy day, the fleet of vehicles can easily take up a third of the entire Greensward.
A zoo official said the Greensward was used for parking on 64 days in 2012 and 63 days in 2013. The field is used when the zoo has exhausted all other options.
"The Memphis Zoo certainly understands that parking is a problem, and we respect this group's desire to find a solution," said zoo spokesman Abbey Dane.
Overton Park Conservancy spokeswoman Melissa McMasters said her group and the zoo are working together for a long-term solution to the problem. The zoo has long considered building a parking garage on its property but those plans have been stymied by cost concerns; the last garage plans were priced at $5 million.
"That process won't happen overnight because it will likely require a good deal of fund-raising, but it is a high priority for us," McMasters said.
Dane said the zoo and the conservancy have an agreement that if a garage was built, the zoo would no longer use the Greensward for parking.
In the meantime, Get Off Our Lawn has suggested running shuttles from Crosstown or the new parking garage at Overton Square. The conservancy is exploring this idea for peak visiting days, McMasters said, as well as improving bike and pedestrian access to the park. A series of public hearings in May will focus on enhancements to park entrances.
Until any of that can happen, though, cars will continue to park on the Greensward.