It's been a disheartening week in my beloved Overton Park. Several years ago, inspired by Henry Shaw who transformed a whole section of St. Louis by founding parks and the botanic garden and planting 40,000 trees, my dad and I asked about donating some trees to Overton to provide visual screening of the zoo lot and shade for future generations. Due to the closing of a longtime nursery and their generosity in pricing the leftovers, we were able to go big (although not Henry Shaw big) and donate 300 new trees plus another 100 shrubs.
Many of the trees are planted in a ring around the Greensward, the one big open meadow that was planned by George Kessler, a disciple of Frederick Law Olmstead, as the heart of the park and the main meeting/play place for people. It is ringed by trees, but the old ones are slowly coming down and need renewing. Sadly the zoo has been using this one big green space for their overflow parking since the 90's, and the city hasn't stopped them. This week they went off the rails and ripped out 27 of our new trees in the dark of a Sunday night. They clear cut four acres of old growth forest several years ago, so their lack of conservation is not a surprise, but they have never before ventured out from their fences to destroy trees in the park proper. I am appalled and heartsick, and I sincerely hope the city will finally stand up and keep them in their borders. They want this land outright, the very heart of the park. That cannot happen.
This morning there was a jazz funeral march for the fallen trees and a ceremonial replanting of three new ones. The Mighty Souls Brass Band went above and beyond on their civic duty to play on a cold Saturday morning.
Below is a picture from three years ago of the Boy Scouts who helped plant the same batch of new trees that the zoo ripped out some of.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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