Melanie White has visited Overton Park regularly for at least 20 years, most often when she's running the trails around the golf course.
But by the end of the month, White will not only be a frequent park user, she'll be a park ambassador ready to help other users with any questions or concerns about park activities, security, or maintenance.
White is one of about 30 people so far who have signed up to serve on Team Overton Park, a new program that recruits regular users to be "eyes and ears of the Overton Park Conservancy," according to the conservancy's communications coordinator, Melissa McMasters.
"Because I'm in the park every day, I'm hoping to be a visible expression of the conservancy," White said.
Team members will wear T-shirts with "Team Overton Park" printed on them, and other park visitors can approach them to ask questions about ongoing construction projects, report broken park infrastructure, raise concerns about a security issue, or even turn in lost items found in the park.
"We have people, all the time, turning in lost eyeglasses or other items to our office. But this way, we'll have people out in the park, so when people don't know where to turn that item in, they can find someone in a Team Overton Park shirt," McMasters said.
Team Overton Park will have its first orientation meeting on Saturday, January 26th. Volunteers will be trained on how to identify concerns of park users, when to call police, and how to increase awareness of their surroundings while they're in the park.
The conservancy is still accepting applications at overtonpark.org/top, but they must be at least 18 years old. Volunteers must also pass a background check, and they'll be required to sign a "hold harmless" agreement so the conservancy won't be held responsible if anything happens to Team Overton Park members while they're in the park.
The park ambassadors won't be assigned any certain time to volunteer. They're simply encouraged to wear their Team Overton Park shirts when they're visiting the park. But the conservancy has outlined zones for volunteers to ensure all areas of the park are covered.
The park is divided into seven zones that include broad areas, such as the greensward/Rainbow Lake area, the central Old Forest, and the East Parkway picnic area. Volunteers are encouraged to choose their zone based on what part of the park they use the most, but they're not limited only to working in those areas.
"You can leave your zone. In fact, we encourage you to leave your zone sometimes," McMasters said.
As for White, she said she runs all over the park, so she may not choose one zone to monitor. She's hoping to use her new position to recruit more park users to volunteer for various projects throughout the park, such as clean-up days and tree plantings.
"I served on the Park Friends board for 20 years, and I realized the way to sustain the park is through its volunteers," White said. "No board can do everything. We need a large group to protect and enhance Overton Park."