Shelby Farms Park, a sanctuary of lakes, wetlands and native forests, spans across 4,500 acres within Memphis’ city limits. At the edge of the park, auto traffic either hurtles or crawls down Walnut Grove Road in its familiar, metropolitan rhythm. Five times the size of NYC’s Central Park, Shelby Farms Park is one of the United States’ 20 largest urban parks. Home to bison, beavers, turtles and deer, this abundant community parkland makes Memphis into a city unlike any other: because of this space, we have access to wild, organic life in the midst of a metropolis.

A serene drive into the park

A serene drive into the park is a stark contrast to …

....the traffic-filled lanes of Walnut Grove Road.

… the traffic-filled lanes of Walnut Grove Road, which is the park’s main entrance.

Dedicated to the celebration and conservation of our “community treasure,” the Heart of the Park enhancement project has flourished since its start in 2007, despite the economic downturn in 2008. Creative and resourceful Shelby Farms team members carried Heart of the Park through the recession, meeting their fundraising goal of $70 million.

The end result of those generous gifts are now coming together, as the final touches of the Heart of the Park project are underway. The team of planners, contractors and donors on this job are creating a richer park through restructuring the parkland into a more ecologically vibrant and more physically accessible space. By the time the last shovelful of dirt is turned and the last construction truck leaves the park, the following enhancements will be complete:

  • 1 million new trees will have been planted to improve wetland and watershed.
  • Patriot Lake will have been enlarged from 55 to 80 acres, and new and longer walking and biking trails will loop the lake.
  • New wetlands and forest walkways will have been added.
  • New sustainable buildings, including a retreat center, lakeside pavilion and an events center, will be constructed.
  • More and safer pedestrian and bicycle access to the park will be in place as the park is connected to the Shelby Farms Greenline.
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The Greenline trail runs 6.5 miles through the heart of our city, connecting Midtown Memphis to Shelby Farms Park.

One of the most buzzworthy features of the Heart of the Park plan is the opening of a new branch of entrepreneur Kimbal Musk’s much-loved, farm-to-table, Colorado-based restaurant The Kitchen, which opens in mid-August. The Kitchen at Shelby Farms will offer two kinds of dining experiences — one for the grab-and-go bite, and a bistro in the LEED-certified event center for a sit-down meal.

The Kitchen's bistro will be in the new LEED-certified Event Center at Shelby Farms. Image| SFPC

The Kitchen’s bistro will be in the new LEED-certified event center at Shelby Farms. Image: SFPC

We asked Jen Andrews, executive director of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, to name an element of the enhancements that she feels will be particularly meaningful to the community. “A good landscape design for a public space thoughtfully considers both the community as a whole and people as individuals, offering layered and meaningful experiences for one and all,” says Jen.

“It’s hard to say what will be most meaningful because I think the experiences will be personal and evolving. [However] the new Lakeside Ballroom is an absolute showstopper — solid glass wall with a long sunset view over the lake, custom Tennessee cypress ceiling,” Jen continues. “We’re thrilled thinking about all the special life events and memories people will make in this space.”

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You can now zip-line through this treetop wander-land and over the lily pads of Pine Lake. The Go Ape! course features 40 crossings and obstacles, including rope ladders and net bridges, and six zip lines.

Jen says some of the more simple enhancements to the park are the most meaningful to her. “We’ve planted a baby cypress forest on the southeastern side of the lake. As you’re walking along the Promenade lakeside trail, suddenly the grass edges fall away and there’s shallow water on either side of the trail. Little wet-footed trees line the walk, and waterfowl are already claiming their haven. It’s a starter forest today, but I get goosebumps walking along the trail and thinking about how breathtaking and special that space will be long after I’m gone.”

A long view of the redesigned Patriot Lake shows the simple beauty of this natural sanctuary.

A long view of the redesigned Patriot Lake shows the simple beauty of this natural sanctuary.

By September 2016, Heart of the Park will be finished, and “your favorite park will be your new favorite park,” as the Heart of the Park tagline says. Soon there will be many more ways to love this precious park of ours — we hope you get out to explore the enhancements in spite of a sultry Southern summer!

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