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5 Star Stories: Enjoying the great outdoors across the Mid-South

Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 11:42 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - One of the 20 largest urban parks in America is Shelby Farms Park in Memphis.

The park may be the grandest outdoor destination in the Bluff City.

“We’re just out here enjoying the weather,” said park visitors Alexis Cooper an Frank Howard.

The 4,500-acre oasis in East Memphis is more than five times the size of Central Park in New York City. It’s filled with lakes, forests, and wetlands, 20 bodies of water for fishing, paddle boating or paddle boarding, 40 miles of trails, and part of the green line that spans from Midtown Memphis to Cordova. There’s plenty of room for you and your four-legged companions to roam.

“More than 100 acres dedicated to off-leash fun, if you want to bring your pup,” said Rebecca Dailey with the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy.

You can even bring your own horse or rent one. Just be sure to call ahead.

There’s picnic areas, playgrounds, a tree top zip line course, two restaurants, and a famous bison herd that first arrived in the 1980s.

Another space to unwind amid the expanse of the great outdoors is the Lichterman Nature Center, an accredited arboretum connecting Mid-Southerners to the local ecosystem.

“We’re really an urban oasis,” said Andy Williams, manager of the the Lichterman Nature Center.

It’s 65 acres of forest, meadow, and lake waters, teeming with wild plants and wildlife in their native habitats. You can walk nearly three miles of trails, feed the fish, or stroll across the picturesque bridge above a bed of American lotus.

“They have flowers like dinner plates and the leaves are easily two feet across,” said Williams.

The Lichterman is the nation’s first accredited nature center and they sell plant and host events and tours throughout the stunning sanctuary off Quince Road in the heart East Memphis.

“The ecology is a very important factor of who we are and who we became as a city,” said Kevin Thompson, executive director of the Museum of Science and History.

You can rent the pavilion, enjoy an outdoor program at the amphitheater, watch plants grow in the Greenhouse and Plant Propagation Center, or take a selfie with an alligator or snapping turtle in the Backyard Wildlife Center.

”It’s around 75 pounds, and it’s huge,” Williams mentioned.

The land was once part of a 5,000-acre plantation in the mid-1800s. It passed through many hands, some famous, from Piggly Wiggly founder Clarence Saunders, to baseball Hall of Famer and New York Giants manager, Memphis Bill Terry.

It’s now a space where visitors can both play and learn.

“You can easily get lost on the trails and just spend the whole day wandering the woods,” said Thompson.

Just a hop, skip, and a jump from downtown Memphis is another outdoor oasis.

T.O. Fuller State Park is 1,138 acres of green space where wildlife, people, and history meet just south of McKellar Lake.

”Most of our state parks are in rural areas, whereas T.O. Fuller is actually in the city,” explained Jimmy Warren, ranger and T.O. Fuller State Park manager.

It’s where school and church groups play, be it on a baseball diamond, in a meeting space, or at a picnic pavilion.

”It was originally established in the 30s as a park designated for negroes,” said Warren.

”It was named after T. O. Fuller, Thomas Oscar, who was an educator, legislator, activist,” Warren said.

The First Baptist Church on Beale’s reverend led a congregation of freed slaves, taught himself how to read, and became the principal of Howe Institute, which merged with Owen College to eventually became LeMoyne-Owen College.

”I remember the 18-hole golf course. I remember guys who would come out and play golf. Me as a caddy seeing such guys as Lee Elder, Eddie Payton, Walter Payton’s brother, who played professional football, and a bunch of other notable African Americans,” Warren said.

The old golf course is now the wildlife habitat area with native grass for animal habitation like deer and wild turkeys.

”We have really cool animals here. We have coyotes and bobcats. I know we have at least three that call it their home,” said park ranger Decoda Muller.

”We have a lot of wetlands, and so all of those wetlands are places where the aquifer recharges, so just things like that so we actually actively protect the water source,” explained park ranger Jessica Gossett.

The rangers teach visitors about the local habitat.

There’s the Interpretive Center.

”I try to tell stories about wildlife and the things here,” said Joy “Mother Wit” Scott, T.O. Fuller Park storyteller.

There are tennis courts, basketball courts, a five-and-a-half-mile trail, a 45-slot campground for your RVs, and an open-camp area where you can pitch tents, for a celebration of any and everything outdoors.

”People need to know this place is here.,” said Muller.

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