One of the crown jewels of Memphis, Shelby Farms Park is a 4,500-acre urban park that since 2007 has offered seemingly endless outdoor recreation opportunities right within the city limits. Whether you’re a cyclist, hiker, angler or other type of outdoor enthusiast, you’ll find something to love here. REI recently awarded Shelby Farms Park a $5,000 grant in recognition of the world-class opportunities provided by the park. These funds will help the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy maintain the Tour de Wolf trail system, an area that’s popular among mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners.
As REI readies for the August 24th opening of its Memphis store, its fourth location in Tennessee, the co-op is continuing its commitment to partnering with local organizations that provide outdoor recreation opportunities to residents in the area. In addition to the Shelby Farms Park grant, REI has collaborated with Memphis-based Ghost River Brewing Co. on a limited-edition beer called Happy Herd IPA, a nod to the unique herd of buffalo grazing on fifty of the park’s acres. From sales of the brew, 10 percent will go to Shelby Farms Park.
We spoke with the marketing and communications director for the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, Angie Whitfield, as well as Lauren Veline, the market manager for the REI Memphis store, to find out more about the partnership between the two organizations and some of the opportunities offered by the Park.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
As one of the largest urban parks in the country, Shelby Farms Park is an awesome resource for people in West Tennessee. What opportunities does the park offer to people in and around Memphis?
Angie: That’s right, we are one of the largest urban parks in America and actually five times larger than Central Park. We have over 3 million visitors a year who have the opportunity for so many activities, like fishing, boating, horseback riding, hiking, running, zip-lining and even laser tag. For those with dogs, we have a 100-acre off-leash dog park. There [are] also over 40 paved and unpaved miles of trails available for hikers, bikers and runners. So, if you want to do it, you can do it here at the Park. But we’re also a community hub and a gathering place for people.
Beyond locals, do tourists find their way to the Park for some adventure?
Angie: Since the Park is in the geographical center of the county, it draws people from all parts of the region. We have a lot of out-of-town visitors who come just to get outside. We offer so many workshops and events that allow people to enjoy the space as well. And there are always people here doing something, even if it’s just enjoying the fresh air. It’s a great equalizer for people. We’re a great melting pot of different demographics and interests, but when you’re at the Park, we’re all enjoying this space together.
How will the grant awarded by REI help out at the Park?
Angie: We’ll be working on the Tour de Wolf trail system, which is one of the most popular trails in the park. It’s a 6-mile, multiuse trail system that is used by tens of thousands of hikers, joggers and mountain bikers each year. After a few decades of use, there are areas that are in need of repair to continue to offer a world-class standard of accessibility and outdoor opportunities for Memphis.
Lauren: And we’ve already started work on the project. In mid-July, we started building a new bridge to reroute [the trail around] one of the damaged bridges. When you were walking across you could tell that they were heavily used and very popular. Throughout the project, we’ll also be rebuilding two other bridges and adding three new trail routes. We’ll be installing culverts in low-lying areas where water is collecting, and filling washed-out areas and removing dangerous limbs and trees from the trailway. Taking off those hanging branches is important to keep mountain bikers safe when they’re riding. But it’ll be in better shape for all users of the trail, such as hikers.
Are REI employees involved in the on-the-ground trail maintenance for the Tour de Wolf trail system?
Lauren: Our new REI employees took part in a stewardship event recently. These are new hires that will be based at our Memphis location. That whole team helped out with trail maintenance—some of the team helped cut down limbs that were in the way on trails and the rest helped construct the new bridge.
Why does REI feel it’s important to get its employees involved with local projects such as this one?
Lauren: When REI comes into a new community, we want to make sure that we give something back and help improve the outdoor recreation community that’s already here. That’s a huge part of what we do: making sure outdoor activities are available and accessible. And we want to ensure our employees get to know the spaces we need to steward and why it’s so important to be stewards of these outdoor spaces. When employees get involved, they help make an impact on the community. Shelby Farms Park is a great place to start.
How important are volunteers to making Shelby Farms Park work?
Angie: We have school groups and large corporations come out to help. And we welcome [any] groups that want to come out and give back. We have 3 million visitors in a year and this is a big space and it requires big work. We run it with a small staff. So, we are so thankful and appreciative for groups that do come out that recognize the importance of this beautiful place and are willing to help us keep it clean and safe. The mission of REI and what we are as a park fit so perfectly together.
REI is also partnering with Ghost River Brewing Co. How are they involved in the partnership?
Lauren: We partnered with Ghost River Brewing to create a limited-edition IPA named Happy Herd after the beautiful buffalo herd at Shelby Farms Park. Ten percent of all proceeds from that beer will go to Shelby Farms Park to help with stewardship of the herd’s grazing area.
What does the partnership with REI mean to you and your staff at the Park?
Angie: It’s such a logical partnership. We are all excited to have this partnership where we can work together and get people outside. For experienced outdoor enthusiasts or those trying something for the first time, this partnership gives them more opportunities to get outside and make a larger difference in the city. There’s no limit to what we can do.
REI Memphis will host a grand opening in its new location at 5897 Poplar Avenue, August 24–26. Learn more about the festivities.
Interested in tasting Happy Herd IPA? Attend the grand opening and make a $5 donation to the Park. You will be given a pint glass and a token, valid for one free pint at Ghost River Brewing in Memphis. Happy Herd IPA will be available at Ghost River Brewing Co. from August 24 to September 2.