Memphian Ed Garavelli has walked through Overton Park nearly every day for 30 years. Several weeks ago, he was taking his evening stroll on the east side of the park when two teens suddenly appeared from some brush near the running trail.
"One was on a bicycle, and the other was walking with a large tree branch," Garavelli says. "The guy who was riding his bike swerved toward me and sprayed me in the face with pepper spray. Then the guy with the branch clubbed me."
The teens, both males around 14 to 16 years old, demanded money. But Garavelli wasn't carrying his wallet and that angered his attackers. They continued to beat him and spray his eyes with pepper spray.
"I decided my only hope was to run," Garavelli says. "I got around the corner, and there were some people coming into the park near the playground. When [the attackers] saw them, they took off."
When the police arrived, the teens were gone. But Garavelli, who belongs to park advocacy group Park Friends, believes the attack wouldn't have happened if the brush separating the running trail and the asphalt road near East Parkway had been trimmed.
"The brush is providing places for predators to hide," Garavelli says.
Garavelli and Park Friends president Glenn Cox met with Park Services director Cindy Buchanan last week to discuss clearing invasive species that have grown in the 10- to 15-feet space separating the gravel running trail from the road.
"The idea is to thin out areas between the running trail and the walking road so you can see and be seen," Cox says.
The city recently hired a botanist to survey Overton Park's old-growth forest. Buchanan says the botanist will survey the area near the running trail within the next few weeks. Park Friends will begin removing brush in January.
"We're going to make sure nothing precious or indigenous is taken out," Cox says. "But if it's just a weed, sorry, but so be it. We don't want invasive species in there anyway."
A brief walk through the area reveals several privet plants and plenty of poison ivy, both of which are considered invasive.
Buchanan agrees the area should be trimmed, but she says the city will be careful to protect trees.
"You don't want to take all the nature away," Buchanan says. "We'll trim back some things that will help make the area more exposed, but we're not cutting out everything."