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#NatureZen: Peopling the Park

Today we welcome a special guest author to #NatureZen. Dr. Ronné Adkins is the Memphis Field Office Regional Director of External Affairs for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. He has over fifteen years of experience in public service and the environmental field. Dr. Adkins earned his B.A. in Environmental Studies from Dartmouth College, an M.S. in Environmental Sciences and Policy from Johns Hopkins University, and a Ph.D. in Earth Sciences from the University of Memphis, where he was also a National Science Foundation Fellow. He is a native Memphian, an Overton Park Conservancy board member, and enjoys spending his time away from the office with family hiking, fishing, biking, and a variety of outdoor activities.

The other day, while shopping at a one of the big box retailers, I came across a t-shirt that read “I’m Done Peopling.” It made me laugh, as we’ve all been there at some point in our life. The saying on the t-shirt stuck with me throughout the day, as “peopling” is something we haven’t done a lot of as of late. The COVID-19 global pandemic has forced society to live and interact with each other in ways we have not done in this lifetime. No longer are we casually going to restaurants with friends, attending church services, or participating in large in-person meetings at work.

One of the best resources we have to more safely interact with people and get out of our homes is through outdoor recreation, or more specifically, visiting Overton Park and enjoying the peaceful hiking trails or picnics on the Greensward. Undoubtedly, Overton Park is home to many unique natural resources, such as hundreds of different plant species, up to a hundred bird species, the 126-acre old-growth forest, also known as the Old Forest State Natural Area, and so much more.

Couple walking in woods
As we embark upon the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that helped pave the way to prevent the routing of Interstate 40 through the park, I’m reminded of that deep connection Overton Park has with the people of Memphis. In my opinion, the most precious resource of the park is its people, people like you that come to visit for hikes, celebrations, or for the scenic background it provides on your Zoom calls. Without you, the park wouldn’t have the recreational assets it offers, or the benefit of State Natural Area protection.

When visiting Overton Park, one of my favorite things to do is take inventory of the beautiful sights and sounds of nature. If you close your eyes and just listen, you will quickly recognize the harmony expressed by the birds chirping, dogs barking, laughter, the sound of the cicadas, and so much more. One thing that I’ve noticed since participating in meetings over Zoom is when participants are outdoors, the sounds of nature come through so clear and just serve as a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in an environment where nature can thrive. Can you imagine a world where it’s completely quiet when you go outdoors? I’m grateful we don’t live in that world!

Picnic on Greensward
That being said, it is our duty to ensure that these assets are protected, enhanced and available for future generations to enjoy. The next time you’re in the park, take inventory of the sights and sounds of nature, appreciate the clean, fresh air, marvel at the size of the trees in the Old Forest, smile when you pass a park friend, and relish each moment along the way. It has been my pleasure to bring this edition of #NatureZen to you.

words by Dr. Ronné Adkins, photos by Melissa McMasters

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