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story & photos by Melissa McMasters, Director of Communications, Overton Park Conservancy

 

She is music, she is art, human play and happy barks. She is wild and tame, verdant and tough. She’s the magic at Memphis’ center. Meet Overton Park.

School children and day campers visit the playground.

The sculpture “Rhapsody” welcomes foot traffic into the forest.

 

For as long as anyone living in Memphis can remember, Overton Park has been in the middle of it all. As a place equally suited to quiet contemplation of nature and vibrant cultural celebrations, the 342-acre park has been a treasured part of the city since it opened in 1901.

What makes Overton Park cool? If we take that question literally, the answer is the beautiful tree canopy that rises in the Old Forest State Natural Area. Runners swear the temperature drops 10 degrees when they hit the limestone trail.

The oldest generation of trees, made up of towering oaks and tulip poplars, is around 180 years old. The younger generation finds smaller trees like maples and pawpaws growing closer to the ground.

Signage helps visitors understand park trails.

Weekly farmers market keeps palates pleased.

A book-reading flash mob descends on the Greensward.

 

Beyond the summer refuge of the tree canopy, Overton Park is cool because it’s a cultural centerpiece of the city. Home to the Brooks Museum and Memphis College of Art, the family fun of the Memphis Zoo, a nine-hole golf course, and starry nights at Levitt Shell, the park boasts year-round opportunities to learn and have fun. Spring brings festival season, when the Greensward hosts celebrations of Memphis’ cultural diversity from the Latino Festival to Palestine Fest to Persian Fest.

When Memphians have something to say, they often say it in Overton Park: whether it’s a rally for trans equality, a memorial fundraiser for the family of a fallen police officer, or demonstrations advocating for the preservation of the park itself, the park presents a central location for neighbors to come together in common cause.

Overton Park is host to many cultural festivals.

The park is cool for canines and their keepers.

 

Overton Park Conservancy has managed the park since 2011, revitalizing Rainbow Lake Playground, building a dog park, creating a bike and pedestrian plaza, and keeping the park maintained in top condition.

Recently, the Conservancy raised $1 million in two months in an effort to re-engineer the Zoo’s parking lot to finally end the practice of parking Zoo visitors’ cars on the Greensward.

The Conservancy relies on community support to operate. You can learn more and make donations at overtonpark.org.

This photo is from the 2014 fundraiser A Magical Night at Overton Park.

Bike Gate is a portal a city-wide bike trail system.