State officials say they won’t change the management plan for the Old Forest State Natural Area to allow the Memphis Zoo to run trams on its roads.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s proposal to end the use of Overton Park’s Greensward for overflow parking by the Memphis Zoo included a shuttle system to be run on city streets from a new lot on the eastern edge of the park.
Zoo officials countered with a plan to run trams through the park’s Old Forest, noting it would be safer and more enjoyable for zoo visitors.
However, the Old Forest is a state-protected Natural Area, in which motorized vehicles are prohibited. Zoo officials countered that notion last week saying that the state allows motorized vehicles in many of its designated natural areas. Also, zoo officials said the mayor would simply need to ask the state for the exemption.
Robert J. Martineau Jr., Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation [TDEC], said in a letter to mayor Strickland Monday that his office does not “expect to change the management plan [for the Old Forest] to accommodate such a request.”
“While state law does allow the TDEC Commissioner to develop land management plans that deviate from the Natural Areas regulations, we only do so in instances that enhance the visitor experience or are required for resource management,” Martineau said in his letter. “The proposed activity would impede the visitor experience at the [Old Forest State Natural Area] and an alternative is available, thus, we do not expect to changes the management plan to accommodate such a request.”
“We are confident that the city of Memphis and the Memphis Zoo will be able to agree to an efficient method of transportation for zoo visitors without compromising the visitor experience at Old Forest State Natural Area.”
The Memphis City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on Strickland’s proposals.