Bob Schreiber, president of the Greater Memphis Greenline, hopes the proposed CSX greenway is the "first step in a long path to come."
At more than six miles long — and spanning from Midtown to Shelby Farms — the CSX corridor is a pretty big first step. But when you have an ambitious plan for a 13-mile multi-use trail, maybe a big first step is what you need.
"This is our first project like this," said Jen Andrews, communication manager for Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, the group that will manage the Greenline once it's completed. "Once we show how it works, I think they'll pop up all over the place."
The conservancy and Greater Memphis Greenline held two well-attended public meetings last week about the plans for the vacant rail corridor, abandoned in 2002.
Shelby County is expected to purchase the property within the next two months, and construction on the trail should begin by the end of the year. The scheduled completion date for the trail is spring 2010.
"This is more than saying let's get a trail," said Shelby County mayor A C Wharton. "This is going to bring neighbors together. ... It's about connecting citizens to sidewalks instead of the sofa."
Wharton and other greenway representatives promoted the benefits of the trail: improved community health, connectivity, wildlife education, recreational opportunities, psychological benefits, and business investment.
National expert Bob Searns said that for every $1 a community puts into greenways, it gets $3 back in revenue. The CSX property cost about $5 million, and trail construction is budgeted around $2 million.
But many residents who live near the vacant CSX line are concerned about crime, property values, and privacy once the trail is built.
Members of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy say they are taking those concerns seriously. Both Wharton and Shelby Farms Park executive director Rick Masson have promised the greenline will not open until a comprehensive security plan is in place.
"The key will be to keep vehicles off," Masson said. "Generally, thieves are people who don't like to carry stuff. They want their cars nearby."
Members of the Memphi Police Department, Homeland Security, and Shelby County sheriff Mark Luttrell attended last week's meetings and said they will use bicycle cops and thermal imaging cameras and possibly install loud speakers and emergency phones along the greenline.
"I think the law enforcement officials did a good job alleviating people's fears," Andrews said. "If it backed up to my neighborhood, I would want the people managing it to know how concerning that is, and I would want to know someone would make sure it was safe."
To ease privacy concerns, especially in neighborhoods where the trail's elevation is above the fence line of adjoining residential property, planners are looking at planting a fence of trees or shrubs.
The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy also has a public input survey on its website at shelbyfarmspark.org/sfpc/public-input-greenway-survey.
Andrews said the response has been overwhelmingly positive so far.
"I haven't gotten a single survey that said don't build the trail or we're against this," she said. "Most said, we think this is a great idea, but we're concerned about this."
Andrews said local residents also have included great ideas in their surveys, including one woman who suggested planting rose bushes along the trail: They look good, they smell good, and they are painful for would-be criminals to crawl through.
After the Shelby Farms Conservancy sends the information to TDOT, they will probably host more public forums, especially neighborhood-focused ones.
"When you have a linear park, the key to doing it well is to understand each little neighborhood," Andrews said.
The first phase of the project will construct the basic 10-foot-wide trail. The second phase could possibly include benches, water fountains, parking areas, and an extension of the trail into Cordova.
"History shows that everyone loves these trails after they're completed, both nationally and locally," Masson said. "I think a lot of people would say they enjoy downtown's bluff walk, and there was a lot of controversy when that was proposed."