Reimagine the future of Overton Park

By Naomi Van Tol

Last month the Tennessee legislature passed a bill to protect 126 acres of Overton Park’s old growth forest as the Old Forest State Natural Area. The bill was signed by Governor Haslam on June 6, giving the Old Forest the highest possible level of state protection. This is a major triumph for the hundreds of citizens and dozens of civic groups, including the Cooper-Young Community Association, who worked together for 18 months to make the Old Forest State Natural Area happen.

Senator Beverly Marrero and Representative Jeanne Richardson have been, and still are, our best champions for the Old Forest and Overton Park. They led the entire Shelby County delegation in support of this legislation, and it passed the House and Senate unanimously. On the local level, this effort was strongly supported by Mayor AC Wharton, Councilman Jim Strickland, and legendary attorney Charlie Newman.

Another great champion for the Old Forest State Natural Area was a new citizen committee led by two local businessmen; George Cates, former Chairman of Mid-America Apartment Communities; and Gary Shorb, President and CEO of Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare. This committee includes all of the Overton Park tenants and citizen advocacy groups. We have embarked together on a larger mission – to reimagine the future of Overton Park.

Overton Park has been beloved by Memphians since it was created in 1901. But our park is now plagued by poor maintenance, a lack of funding, and a lack of vision for capital improvements. Our children deserve better.

We can’t make a brighter future for Overton Park unless we all have a stake in that future. Our new citizen committee is launching a summer campaign to build a community vision for our park. We’re starting with two “open house” public meetings at the Memphis College of Art (Rust Hall) in the heart of Overton Park on Saturday, June 25, 10am-12pm and Tuesday, June 28, 5pm-7pm to ask for your input. We will also launch an online survey and organize volunteers to walk the park with paper surveys.

What do you love most about Overton Park? What needs fixing? How can we make our park better for everyone? Our committee’s goal for this summer is to encourage everyone in our community to share their ideas for Overton Park. Our campaign website is Please help spread the word and build a better future for Overton Park.

Naomi Van Tol is president of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park,

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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