An existing zoo tram.
The Memphis Zoo says the state’s rule against motorized vehicles in state-protected natural areas can be overruled and it is in over half of similar sites across Tennessee.
In a note to zoo members Thursday, the zoo said it wants to run motorized trams on existing paved roads through Overton Park’s Old Forest. It’s a response to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s proposal to end overflow parking for the zoo on the Greensward.
Part of Strickland’s plan would create a new parking lot for the zoo on what is now the city’s General Services facility on the east side of the park. It would be used for overflow parking and zoo visitors would be shuttled to and from the lot via shuttles running on city streets.
The zoo countered that part of the plan Thursday, noting that running the shuttles on city streets would not be as safe as running them through the Old Forest. However, Strickland has said many times that the state does not allow motorized vehicles in state natural areas.
When asked how the zoo would maneuver around this prohibition, the zoo released this statement to the Flyer
“While there is a rule in the management plan of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) that prohibits 'operation or use of a portable motor-driven electric generating plant, pump, or other equipment driven by a portable engine or motor,' this rule can be overruled in some instances, as it has in close to half (35) of the 85 designated state natural areas in Tennessee.
If the [Memphis City Council] votes to approve the use of the trams, the mayor can go to TDEC and request an adjustment to the land management agreement for this particular use.
The zoo is most interested in this option for the main purpose of having greater control over the guest experience by providing safe, efficient and convenient transportation from the off-site parking lot directly to the zoo entrance.
Many of the guests visiting the zoo are families with children, strollers, coolers and other items necessary for a day away from home with small children, and not only are the trams a safe, efficient and convenient form of transportation, but also, the zoo's tram drivers are specifically trained to provide assistance for guests in these situations.”