When the American Queen made Memphis its home port last year, company officials likely had no idea the world's largest paddlewheel steamboat would soon be forced to use a pair of hundred-year-old trees in Greenbelt Park as a makeshift dock.
Due to the Mississippi River's low water, along with the docking location at Beale Street Landing remaining unfinished, the American Queen has been temporarily anchoring at the park on the north side of Mud Island.
A concrete boat ramp at the foot of one of the park's entrances is only large enough to accommodate small boats, kayaks, and canoes. The ramp doesn't have a mooring post designed for larger vessels, so the American Queen's only alternative is to cover two of the park's cottonwood trees with rugs and tie lines of rope around them.
Phillip Blevins, a Memphian who frequents the park, was alarmed when he noticed the ship anchored to park trees.
"The huge anchor ropes that they put around the trees cut into the bark," Blevins said. "Anytime you cut the bark of a tree all the way around, it kills the tree. A tree will not recover on its own. It will not grow new bark. They have rugs wrapped around the trees, but the ropes are cutting right through the bark."
Blevins contacted the American Queen Steamboat Company to request that they install a mooring post into the concrete ramp so the steamboat could anchor there. He said the company informed him that the city or the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) would be responsible for providing a mooring post for the steamboat.
The RDC's horticulturalist examined the trees and concluded that blankets wrapped around the trees provided enough protective covering, according to the RDC's community engagement manager Jimmy Ogle.
"It's not the ideal thing to do at all, but it's customary to tie up the trees because we're thrust into this situation right now due to the low water," Ogle said. "It's not like it's an everyday occurrence. We want to look for a better long-term solution if there's going to be trending low water."
Despite the assurance from the RDC that the trees are safe, Blevins still worries about the long-term effect on the trees' health. He said when other boats stir up a wake, the steamboat puts extra pressure on the trees.
Jeff Krida, chief executive officer of American Queen Steamboat Company, said steamboats have been tying up to trees on the Mississippi River for 200 years.
"In the three or four times that we tied the boat up there, there has been no damage done to the trees," Krida said. "The local port authority and the RDC have directed us to dock there. They have not provided any mooring post to tie to, so the only thing you can use is the tree."
Said Krida: "We think there's no chance whatsoever of us harming the trees with all the weight distribution to multiple tie-up points, the padding we do on the trees, and the slow river current that isn't making the boat tug hard away from the shore."