Building Momentum: Overton Park Conservancy

Building Momentum:

Celebrating the Holidays while
Supporting Local NonProfits

By Kevin Dean

Mission: Overton Park Conservancy’s vision is to foster a beautiful, welcoming, and safe park that encourages our diverse community to explore, learn, create, socialize, and play. Our mission is to protect, preserve, and improve Overton Park.
Year founded: 2012 Website: Number of people served: Overton Park welcomes the population of Memphis as well as our out-of-town visitors. In 2021, the park welcomed more than 1.1 million visitors.
Annual budget: $1.1 million

Overton Park has been a Memphis treasure since 1906, and its storied history includes Supreme Court battles, William Faulkner short stories, and Elvis performances. The park hosts some of Memphis’ best attractions, from the Memphis Zoo to the Brooks Museum of Art, but the park itself is its own major attraction. From the bongo drummers playing on the weekend to the cavalcade of pets roaming the dog park to the leisurely strolls through the forest, the park is an oasis in the middle of the bustling city. The magic of this park doesn’t happen without a little help from Overton Park Conservancy, which has truly created a community space that brings people together.

You may have forgotten the days when the conditions in Overton Park were less than stellar. More than a decade ago, the park had become a victim of underfunding and deferred maintenance, and a groundswell of community support led to the formation of Overton Park Conservancy.In 2012, the City of Memphis entered into a management agreement with the Conservancy, giving the Conservancy responsibility for maintaining the open and forested areas of Overton Park. The Conservancy is now able to leverage a modest, annual allocation from the city to raise funds that make the park beautiful and welcoming, a far cry from the park’s past decay. As the Conservancy improved conditions in the park in its first years, many more people came to the park, which has now become an epicenter of activity in Midtown.

At the heart and soul of the Conservancy’s work is caring for the Old Forest State Natural Area, a 126-acre wooded area that is the only old-growth forest in an urban setting in the southeastern United States. The old-growth forest provides habitat for wildlife, more than 8 miles of walking trails, and a glimpse of what our ecosystem looked like before European settlement.

While many nonprofits were stalled by the pandemic, Overton Park has been busier than ever. The park became a true refuge for the community in 2020, when it was one of the few places where it felt safe to gather with people. Visitorship continued to increase in 2021. Though the organization was forced to halt most in-person events for over a year, Overton Park Conservancy found new ways to engage park visitors virtually through their ongoing NatureZen blog series and through other upcoming events. On April 2, Overton Park Conservancy will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that saved Overton Park from being destroyed by Interstate 40. The Center of a Century celebration will honor attorney Charlie Newman and others who have advocated for the park over its lifespan. This summer, the renovated Overton Park 9 golf course will reopen, along with the Overton Park Junior Open tournament. This year, the organization is also working to complete a comprehensive plan for the park, which will outline a vision for the park's next few decades and a slate of improvement projects.

If you haven’t been to Overton Park lately, now is the time. Spring has sprung, and the park will be a gorgeous place to spend your free time after a chilly winter. See you there!

Kevin Dean is CEO of the Momentum Nonprofit Partners. He received his Ed.D
in Organizational Learning and Leadership from Vanderbilt University in 2021.

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