Private Management of Public Parks a Renaissance in Memphis

Non-profits are managing public and private land better

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Ecstatic children shriek with delight, piercing the summer humidity. Around a bend in a curving arbor, a playground comes into view. Several dozen kids scurry about, ignoring the summer heat. The first play area features a 15-foot slide, a tower, and a hand-operated fountain. From there, a footpath winds toward a huge bowl of slides and rope ladders, and then loops away to another play circle, where kids swing from maypoles. Curve again, and you see Swiss Family Robinson–style treehouses connected by a suspended rope mesh.

The playground is one of the newest features at Shelby Farms Park, one of America's largest urban parks. Near the playground, but just inside the shade, chatty parents keep one eye on their kids. Past a stand of mature trees is Pine Lake, where a family unloads a cooler and starts to suspend a piñata. A pair of cyclists appears at a crest of a ridge opposite the lake. Did they arrive via the 6.5-mile Greenline trail that runs east from midtown Memphis—or north across a brand-new bike-pedestrian bridge?