If there’s one thing Memphis doesn’t lack, it’s parks. In fact, the Bluff City is home to 167 parks. With 3,219 acres of public greenspace to maintain, Memphis City Beautiful is beginning a recruiting push for its Adopt-A-Park program this Fall.
“Mayor Strickland and Memphis City Beautiful kicked off the program in spring of 2016,” said Eldra Tarpley White, executive director of Memphis City Beautiful. “The primary goal and purpose is to establish beautiful and well-maintained parks, clean and free of litter.”
Volunteers are generally asked to help maintain parks by cleaning up litter, gardening, mulching. They are also asked to report unsafe conditions.
So far, 30 parks have been adopted.
“Our goal is to have at least 14 more parks adopted by June 30, 2018,” said White.
One early adopter is director of Hug Neighborhood Park Friends, Jo Ann Street.
“I see my role as an advocate for the parks to ensure that they are safe, promote health and wellness,” said Street.
Like many people, the site of a park brings back fond memories for her.
“Hollywood Park was moved across Chelsea, but it is the place where I first coached basketball for the major boys through my church, Christian United Baptist Church,” said Street.
Her group currently advocates for several parks. In addition to Hollywood, they help promote University and Gooch parks, too.
She encourages engagement with the parks by inviting sports teams, bicycle clubs and rodeos, such as the Memphis Hightailers and Bike Walk Memphis to use the green space; as well as Memphis Area Disc Golf, Memphis Wildcats football and cheerleaders, DUNK Camp with Rhonnie Brewer, RBI through the Redbirds, and Greater Memphis Greenline. Street also organizes the summer nutrition programs and school supply drives in the parks.
Street initially got involved with the program for two reasons.
“I personally needed a place where I could be active near my home to improve my health.”
The other reason came more out of care for her community.
“Children were being exposed to negative influences and events, and it should not hurt to be a child,” said Street.
Volunteers from her group meet regularly to clean up the spaces.
“We have monthly cleanups in University Park and Gooch Park, but Hollywood Park has a regular group that have daily cleanups,” said Street.
Kipp Collegiate and Middle School also partner with HUG to have quarterly cleanups. Students can earn community service hours by pitching in. In addition, court-ordered community service hours through the Shelby County Public Defenders’ Office is offered.
While there isn’t hard data to place credit squarely on the park adoption program, some parks have become safer over the past few years.
“We are celebrating the fact that there have been zero crime reports since 2015 in the parks,” said Street.
Other longtime residents have noticed the work the volunteers have put in.
“One neighbor told me that I hadn't done anything new. I'd just restored the parks to their original use. Momma Lou, we call her, said she played in the park (as a child),” said Street.
Some of the city’s greenspaces have a historic significance. For instance, Gooch park was the first Negro Park in Memphis. It was donated to the city by Cecil and Boyce Gooch in 1957.
“Neighbors remember learning to swim and playing basketball in the park. It is said that Elvis Presley played football at Dave Wells, but played basketball at Gooch Park,” added Street.
Of course, many Memphians have always played a part in keeping area parks clean. Volunteer efforts are appreciated by the city.
“We are so happy to have people more engaged and connected with their neighborhood parks. Early indications show that the Adopt A Park program is a true catalyst for community involvement. JoAnn Street with H.U.G.S is one of our adopters that has proven this well,” said White.
For more information on how you can adopt a park, contact Memphis City Beautiful at 901-636-4410 or memphiscitybeautiful.org.