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Welcome to the Old Forest

The current entrance to the forest near Overton Bark.
The current entrance to the forest near Overton Bark.


The iron bars that greet visitors at three entrances to the Old Forest are anything but welcoming.  Designed to prohibit vehicles from entering the State Natural Area, the gates accomplish something unintended as well: discouraging pedestrians and cyclists from enjoying the forest trails.

But thanks to a generous gift from some lifelong park lovers, the Old Forest will soon invite people in through new gateways that are as unique as Overton Park itself.

Later this year, construction will begin on new gateways at each of the three Old Forest entrances: East Parkway, Overton Bark, and the golf clubhouse.  They were designed by a different local artist: Yvonne Bobo, known for her kinetic sculptures; Ben Butler, whose works are intricate and layered; and Tylur French, who also created the Bike Gate arch.

Tylur French's proposed design for the entrance near Overton Bark.
Tylur French’s design for the entrance near Overton Bark.

The artists were chosen as winners of a competition juried by Overton Park Conservancy’s Design Advisory Committee, which includes members of our board and the community.  Artists were asked to craft design concepts that would offer visitors information about the forest and encourage them to explore it.  One of the most important aspects of the three designs selected is that they enhance the natural beauty of the forest rather than obscuring it.

It’s a fitting addition to a park that has always married nature and artistic expression.  Donors Henry & Lynne Turley and Bill & Becky Deupree were moved to fund this project because of their shared history with the park.  Henry and Bill were childhood friends, and their memories of the park span decades.

“When we were kids Bill lived near the park,” Henry recalls.  “I’d visit him and we’d go straight over and explore its wonders. The park police officer kept a close eye on us. We’ll never forget the evening, after some miscreance, that we successfully eluded his chase by hiding flat on the ground – but in a field of poison ivy.”

Henry and Bill view the new gateways as a gift for all the people who use the park, but they hold special significance as a tribute to their mothers, Cordelia Turley and Mary Evelyn Deupree.  In fact, Bill’s mother led in the improbable but successful battle to stop I-40 before it penetrated the Old Forest.  The group that would become Citizens to Preserve Overton Park met at Mary Evelyn’s home in the 1960s.  There, they made their plans for the lawsuit that would ultimately block the highway from bisecting the park.

Their mothers’ investment continues to pay dividends today, and Henry and Bill’s love for the park has never diminished.  “When the chance to embellish the park arose, we jumped at it,” Henry says.

Once installed in early 2016, the new gateways will offer trail maps and interpretive information about the forest, while creating elegant solutions to keeping vehicles out.  While recalling Bike Gate’s arched entry, these gateways will be smaller and more human-scaled to honor their proximity to the natural area.

To view artist’s renderings of the gateway designs, click here.

This story originally appeared in our spring newsletter. Not a subscriber? Sign up here!