A set of abandoned rails in North Memphis may soon become trails if Greater Memphis Greenline gets its way.
To build on the momentum of the successful Shelby Farms Greenline, Greater Memphis Greenline executive director Syd Lerner is now focusing on 2.3 miles of unused rail line in North Memphis' New Chicago community for a greenline separate from the Shelby Farms path.
Owned by Union Pacific Railroad, the New Chicago line runs along Chelsea Avenue from McLean Boulevard west toward Uptown and ends on Second Street at downtown's Washington Park.
"If you put these amenities near people, good things happen," Lerner said, not the least of which is higher property values.
Although neighborhood residents often fear an increase in crime near trails, it doesn't usually materialize, Lerner said.
"What are [burglars] going to do, carry a television on their back?" he asked. "Ultimately, what makes a trail safe is usage."
In the case of the Shelby Farms Greenline, close management by the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy and a consistent police presence during daylight hours help maintain the trail's safety. Once the New Chicago greenline is up and running, it will pass by a new police precinct on the site of the former Manassas High School.
Like similar greenline initiatives, the New Chicago segment would be among a network of interconnected trails that eventually will provide a way for citizens to travel from one end of the city to the other without ever stepping foot in a car.
The hope is not only to tear down barriers between neighborhoods and ethnicities, but also to help spur economic development and improve public health. Eventually, greenline advocates want to have a trail within three miles of every person in Memphis.
"It changes the dynamics and demographics of the whole community," Lerner said.
Although negotiations are still under way with the railroad, which abandoned its right-of-way and removed rails from the Chelsea line in 2009, the hope is to have a walking and biking trail in the North Memphis area by 2013. The railroad wants $1.5 million for the land along the line, although an independent appraisal placed its value at about half that amount.
Right now, greenline supporters are working to obtain grant funding from the Tennesee Department of Transportation and are actively promoting the idea of a greenline in New Chicago, an area plagued by a 30 percent home vacancy rate, persistent poverty, and gang activity. They've begun surveying residents to gauge receptiveness. University of Memphis anthropology students are in the process of tabulating the responses.
Joyce Anderson, principal of Klondike Elementary School, which sits about a mile from the proposed trail, said she thinks a greenline is a fabulous idea.
"There are some vices in this community, but sometimes things like [a new trail] can help turn things around," Anderson said. "I think a walking trail will bring a sense of pride, and there will be families who will utilize it."
Some graffiti that recently sprang up on the proposed trailhead closest to Evergreen captures the area's need. The spray-painted message on a retaining wall reads, "Beggin' for change."
Lerner said he fully intends to work that message into a May 14th Zumbathon fund-raiser kick-off on the Chelsea greenline. The event, to be held at the intersection of Chelsea and Evergreen from 10 a.m. to noon, will host booths and vendors promoting healthy living.