Wolf green­way to use aban­doned manor

Ep­ping For­est plot part of 22-mile trail ex­ten­sion plan

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - 901-529-2572 By Tom Char­lier char­lier@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

Tot­ing fish­ing poles to their fa­vorite lake Fri­day morn­ing, Libby Tayler and Marie Vazquez had no idea they were pass­ing through his­tory on their way to cast­ing for bass and bream.

The gate they walked around blocked the former en­try to Ep­ping For­est Manor, an es­tate once owned by a wealthy cot­ton mer­chant and famed big-game hunter. Far­ther down the pave­ment, the two women passed the crum­bling slab of the former home and the weed-en­veloped ten­nis courts that were used af­ter the prop­erty be­came a pri­vate club. The club’s old swim­ming pool has long since been filled in.

All Tayler and Vazquez knew of the prop­erty at 2630 Ep­ping Way was that slowly and in­ex­orably, na­ture has re­claimed it. And they like it that way.

“Even if we don’t catch fish, we’ve still had a good day,” said Tayler.

Within months, new at­ten­tion will be fo­cused on the 66acre tract in the Raleigh area of Mem­phis as the Wolf River Con­ser­vancy breaks ground on new sec­tions of a planned green­way, or mul­tiuse trail that will fol­low the river through­out Shelby County. The Ep­ping Way land is one of four parcels where the non­profit con­ser­vancy will launch an ex­pe­dited ef­fort to com­plete the nearly 22-mile por­tion of the green­way within the city of Mem­phis.

“It’s go­ing to be one of our eas­ier sec­tions to build,” said Chuck Flink, project di­rec­tor and se­nior ad­viser for the green­way project.

He also noted the cen­tral lo­ca­tion of the tract, roughly a half­way point along the Wolf’s course through Mem­phis. “You’re out in na­ture, but you’re still re­ally close to the city,” Flink said.

The other three sec­tions where work is set to get un­der­way early next year are in nearby Kennedy Park, at the con­flu­ence of the Wolf and Mis­sis­sippi rivers, and down­stream from Wal-

nut Grove Road. Us­ing mostly pri­vate do­na­tions, the con­ser­vancy hopes to com­plete the $40 mil­lion green­way in 2019.

At Ep­ping Way, the 12-foot-wide paved trail will wind eight-tenths of a mile along a 20-acre lake cre­ated af­ter dirt was scooped out for use in nearby con­struc­tion in the early 1970s. The di­ver­sity of the land­scape will make it a key piece of the green­way.

“You’ve got three ecosys­tems in one place there. You’ve got a river, you’ve got wet­lands, you’ve got a lake,” said Bob Wen­ner, chief financial of­fi­cer for the con­ser­vancy.

“It’s a beau­ti­ful piece of prop­erty.”

It’s also a tract with a rich past. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port pre­pared for the county, the prop­erty was part of a larger par­cel owned by sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als dat­ing back to 1898.

Among the most prom­i­nent own­ers was Berry Brooks, who pur­chased more than 200 acres in 1948. A na­tive of Se­na­to­bia, Mis­sis­sippi, who moved with his fam­ily to Mem­phis at age 12, he en­tered the cot­ton industry and rose from a clerk to owner of a com­pany.

At Ep­ping Way, Brooks and his wife Vir­ginia raised cat­tle and kept pea­cocks on their lushly veg­e­tated land. But more than any­thing, Brooks was known as a big-game hunter who brought back many tro­phies from Africa and else­where. He do­nated sev­eral to the Mem­phis Pink Palace Mu­seum, which ex­hib­ited them in a space named the Berry B. Brooks African Hall.

In 1972, the year he re­tired and four years be­fore his death at age 73, Brooks sold most of his prop­erty for use in a planned de­vel­op­ment. Two years later, the Ep­ping For­est Club — a coun­try club with­out a golf course — was un­der con­struc­tion. De­spite its pop­u­lar­ity as a fam­ily recre­ation spot, the club op­er­ated only un­til the early 1980s, af­ter which the own­ers de­faulted on a loan, the re­port for the county says. The prop­erty was sold at pub­lic auc­tion in 1990 and grad­u­ally de­te­ri­o­rated.

In 2007, the prop­erty was do­nated to the old Mem­phis city Schools, which razed the build­ings, filled in the pool and se­cured it from dumpers. Af­ter MCS sur­ren­dered its char­ter and be­came part of Shelby County Schools, the con­ser­vancy be­gan look­ing at the site for use in the green­way project.

School of­fi­cials even­tu­ally agreed to deed the en­tire prop­erty over to the con­ser­vancy be­cause “they de­ter­mined they weren’t go­ing to use it for a school,” Wen­ner said.

The re­port found no sig­nif­i­cant pol­lu­tion or en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems on the site.

With the green­way, the site should again be­come a recre­ational at­trac­tion, Wen­ner said.

“We’d love ... to re­con­nect peo­ple to the land­scape,” he said.

NIKKI BOERTMAN/THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL

A por­tion of a 60-acre tract of land lo­cated at 2630 Ep­ping Way that was once the es­tate of a big-game hunter, and later the site of a coun­try club, will be a piv­otal piece of the Wolf River Green­way, a trail wind­ing through Shelby County.

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