Temperatures are soaring in the mid-90s on Friday afternoon, and there's nary a soul near Patriot Lake in Shelby Farms — unless you count a gaggle of geese.
I'm riding shotgun in a biodiesel-powered Volkswagen Bug driven by Laura Adams, deputy director of Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. Adams is giving me a tour and telling me what the park will look like once the changes outlined in design firm Field Operations' plan are implemented.
At a meeting earlier this week, the Shelby County Commission approved the plan, which will create 12 park landscapes (like an "art mound" and a wildlife refuge) and plant a million trees.
Our first stop is Patriot Lake. It's void of people now, but in the cooler evening hours, walkers and rollerbladers will fill the lake's sidewalks while kayakers play boat ball on the large man-made lake.
"Patriot Lake will continue to be the heart of the park," Adams says. "The plan calls for expanding recreational opportunities at Patriot Lake. The lake itself will be extended further west into the buffalo pasture. The buffalo will just move further over."
Adams says an expanded Patriot Lake will allow for more competitive watersports, such as regattas. The plan also calls for a beach.
County commissioner Steve Mulroy suggested the park allow swimming near the beach area in order to attract park users from across the city.
Adjacent to Patriot Lake is Plough Park, a picnic area. Adams says Field Operations' plan would only make modest improvements to Plough Park's existing facilities, such as new playground equipment and shelters.
On the northern edge of Plough Park, Adams parks her car and we walk toward the amphitheatre. The octagonal wooden stage and surrounding wooden benches were built in the mid-'70s and suffer from natural wear-and-tear.
"It's not used all that often now, but the plan calls for sprucing it up and making it more user-friendly," Adams says.
Back in Adams' car, we pass several man-made lakes, all of which are much smaller than Patriot Lake.
"The plan will improve hydrology in the park. When the lakes were built, they were designed with sloughs that carried water to the upland lakes. Some of that network is no longer working," Adams says.
When we reach Mullins Station Road on the far eastern edge of the park, Adams points out the new Shelby Park subdivision across the street. It's located along the planned greenway trail.
"The plan has provisions for more picnic and playground areas on this side of the park to service these neighborhoods," Adams says.
As we pass the Agricenter, Adams says the future Shelby Farms Park will utilize as much alternative energy, such as solar and wind, as possible.
The preliminary Field Operations plan called for a Shelby Farms School where other government buildings are located. But Adams says the master plan does not include a school. Instead, it calls for the park to expand opportunities for workshops on environmental and health education.
Perhaps most important, the plan will make getting into and out of the park easier for bikers and pedestrians.
"Getting into the park has been a barrier for some people," Adams says. "There's been no way to get a bike into the park without a car, and there's no public transportation into the park. The plan addresses that by utilizing the existing greenways surrounding the park."