5 Star Stories: Shelby Farms Greenline viewed as the great equalizer

Updated: Aug. 25, 2020 at 11:22 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Shelby Farms Greenline stretches from the heart of Binghampton to the heart of Cordova, connecting people from all walks of life with our community’s open spaces.

It’s one of the amenities residents and visitors love about the Mid-South and some call the Greenline the great equalizer.

The Shelby Farms Greenline serves as a welcome mat for ALL who traverse its trails -- 365 days a year.

“A slight moment of peace, respite and just to be connected with nature,” said Greenline bicyclist Cash Williams.

Williams describes the Greenline is a good excuse to move.

“A body in motion stays in motion. You know, I’m approaching 50.”

The Greenline is part of a 300-mile network of connectivity that makes up the Mid-South Regional Greenprint.

The paved path hugs wetlands, runs through forests and crosses bridges.

“The Greenline is one of the most popular trails, not only in Memphis, but in the state of Tennessee,” explained Memphian Rebecca Dailey, Shelby Farms Park Conservancy Communications and Creative Specialist.

Dailey says CSX railroad once transported coal along the trail, but the line went out of service in 2002 leaving the railway overgrown. That's when a group of planners put dreams in motion and created a cause to evolve the park's master plan into a city/county Rails-to-Trails partnership.

"Memphis was the 18th largest city in the country, and had only about one mile of on-street bike lanes," explained City Bikeway and Pedestrian Program Manager Nicholas Oyler.

He worked in city planning overseas in Germany and then in Texas. Oyler came back home to Memphis in 2015 with a purpose.

“Making Memphis more walkable, bikable is really about improving the quality of life and standard of living for our citizens. Owning a car is a huge financial burden for many people,” he said.

The 10.65-mile walking, jogging and cycling path has garnered landscaping awards for its trails that connect nature to neighborhoods.

There are so many special moments like a new trend similar to when visitors to the Seine River in Paris used to hang locks of love. Everyone has a "hello" for you when they pass and the shade from trees is clutch.

"The Greenline is really an oasis in Memphis. It's beautiful. Taking an abandoned railway and transforming it into this asset. A beautiful tree line, the canopy overhead, creating sorely needed shade during Memphis summers," said Oyler.

More than 80% of the Greenline’s funding comes from donations and money the conservancy makes on-site, like bike rentals. There’s the honey sold in the gift shop from the bee hive behind the park’s farm house.

The Greenline expanded in phases over the years and now stretches from Tillman Street in Midtown East to B Street in Cordova.

“The Greenline is actually the catalyst for the cycling and pedestrian movement here in Memphis,” said Dailey.

After 2010, various entities launched bike lanes around the Greenline, resulting in a continuous trail. The Greenline passes through 16 access points at major and minor roads.

"You can hop on the trail in Cordova, ride past Shelby Farms Park, hit the Hampline in Midtown ride through Overton Park, get on a series of connected bike lanes and then right over big river crossing into Arkansas it's one of the most innovative cycling plans in the country," Dailey said.

Oyler says Memphis was part of a national study that found bike lanes make streets better for walking, and increase business and jobs along their corridors. "Any time that we build new bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure, it creates new access for people that wasn't there before, particularly in a lot of disadvantaged neighborhoods of Memphis," he explained.

The conservancy says the Greenline has raised local property values by $67 million and more, becoming an incredibly important commuter trail.

Dailey says traffic on the trail has increased 70% since January, with 375,300 visitors so far in 2020-- 62% cyclists, the rest on foot.

"For me, it's an escape just to get away from all of the things that are going on in the world. Mainly the pandemic that's happening," said Williams.

Hopefully, that will soon be in our rear view, as the long distance spin on the Greenline’s road map provides a breather for all Mid-Southerners.

“The beautiful thing about trails like Shelby Farms Greenline and public spaces like Shelby Farms Park is that they’re equalizers. They equally belong to the community and everyone is welcome,” said Dailey.

The Greenline celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. They’re planning creative ways to celebrate during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, here is a look at the city’s future ideas for area trails and bike lanes.

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