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Meet Our New Director of Operations

Naomi Van Tol
Naomi is not afraid of spiders, including this orb weaver that appears to be dangling midair.

There’s a new person occupying the familiar bright yellow Overton Park Conservancy vest that you’ve gotten used to seeing in the park. And so we’ll say a fond farewell to the original Wearer of the Vest, Naomi Van Tol.

This week is Naomi’s last as our Director of Operations and Capital Improvements. Naomi was on board with the Conservancy from the very beginning, when she helped to spearhead the 2011 Speak Up Survey. Through her work with Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, she championed the protection of the Old Forest by working to have it designated as a State Natural Area. Now 126 acres of the Old Forest are guaranteed eternal protection under state law, ensuring that this ancient ecosystem is able to thrive for generations to come.

Naomi has also supervised the maintenance initiatives that have transformed the park over the last two years, setting a high standard for how the park functions. She was heavily involved in the Overton Bark and Rainbow Lake Playground projects, and worked with Tylur French to create the concept for the Bike Gate sculpture that will soon be installed at East Parkway. And if you’ve ever had an Old Forest tour with her, you know how deep her love for the forest runs, from the tallest tulip poplar to the tiniest woodpecker.

There’s no question she’s left her mark on the park, and she will be terribly missed! But don’t worry, she won’t get far–she’ll continue working with CPOP, and we have no doubt you’ll still see her spinning furiously on the merry-go-round at Rainbow Lake Playground.

Eric Bridges and Naomi Van Tol
Eric and Naomi have been trading bits of their extensive tree knowledge as they walk the Old Forest trails.

In the meantime, we’re very excited to welcome our new Director of Operations and Capital Improvements, Eric Bridges, who started last week. Eric comes to Overton Park from the City of Lakeland, where he has been the Natural Resources Director since 2001. His passion for urban forestry and conservation education make him a natural fit to steward the park and the Old Forest. He has served on the Sustainable Shelby Land Use Committee and the Greening Greater Memphis Board of Directors. And he’s a current member of the inaugural Memphis Tree Board, which advises the City on policies and practices that contribute to the health of public trees.

Eric is enthusiastic about bringing his expertise to Overton Park, and he’s looking forward to our upcoming projects, as well as initiatives like creating more detailed GIS maps of the park. Please say hello and make him feel welcome when you see him in the park! (And as his initiation, we think you should try to stump him by asking arcane tree-related questions. We bet he’ll know the answer, or at least confidently project that he does!)