Photo courtesy of Overton Park Conservancy.
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Free Concerts at Levitt Shell Top Overton Park To-Do List

When we moved to Memphis three years ago, we didn’t choose our neighborhood for the commute, or even for the schools (though we totally scored in both categories). We chose our neighborhood for a park.

Overton Park has been around since 1901, its 342 acres edging what are now busy streets. But the park is your bubble: Let your creative spirit move you through the park’s Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Chase your curiosity through its Memphis Zoo. Walk, bike or run the park’s Old Forest, a state-designated natural area – or, as my family prefers, balance on the giant trunks of fallen trees at its heart.

I'm a sucker for an urban park.

I’m a sucker for urban greenspaces, but with the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis College of Art, Memphis Zoo, a nine-hole golf course, two playgrounds, a dog park, a storied forest and sun-dappled trails, Overton Park is my favorite.

A year after our move, our park got even better. The Overton Park Conservancy was established to manage it, and the site has buzzed in a perpetual state of improvement since. Here are my favorite old and new ways to experience it:

1. Catch free concerts at the Shell. There’s history here – from its WPA construction in 1936 to Elvis’ first paid gig in 1954 – but the Levitt Shell rocks on through a free, fall line-up starring GRAMMY-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum (9/7), local favorites like Star and Micey (9/19) and John Paul Keith (9/20), Lisa Marie Presley (9/21) and Stax affiliates The Bo-Keys (performing with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra on 9/28) and Vaneese Thomas (daughter of Rufus, 10/6). Levitt Shell concerts are as much about the music as the ambience – arrive early to score a spot for your blanket and/or chairs, picnic basket and/or cooler. (There are typically food trucks and alcohol sales onsite in case you don’t want to BYO, but do bring cash for the donation bucket, and consider supporting the venue’s 50-plus free concerts this season by buying a ticket for Stars at the Shell on Oct. 12, when Patty Griffin, Mavis Staples and Buddy Miller with Jim Lauderdale take the stage. $25 for general admission; $150 for VIP.)

The Levitt Shell, Memphis, Tennessee

This month alone, Lisa Marie Presley, GRAMMY-winner Kirk Whalum and Stax Records legends The Bo-Keys will play Overton Park’s Levitt Shell…for free.

2. Play! Overton Park’s Rainbow Lake Playground unveiled an epic make-over this summer – I’m talking life-sized Lincoln Logs for fort-building; a seemingly endless (and ADA-accessible) boardwalk for adventuring; “spider web” cargo nets for climbing; hollowed-out tree trunks to crawl through and hide behind; chess tables; hammock swings; slides and a sand pit; a merry-go-round and some sweet amenities like benches, picnic tables and a little free library. (Follow the Old Forest Trail from the Rainbow Lake Playground to the East Parkway pavilion and playground, surrounded by greenspace, picnic tables and a storybook trail. Shadowing my daughter along the trail as she skipped from page to page of the featured book was absolutely the best reading practice we’ve logged this school year.)

Photo courtesy of Overton Park Conservancy.

Build forts from blocks or hang on hollowed-out trees at Overton Park’s new Rainbow Lake Playground. Photo courtesy of Overton Park Conservancy.

Photo courtesy of Overton Park Conservancy.

The Storybook Trail near Overton Park’s East Parkway Playground moves you page by page through Mem Fox’s Whoever You Are. Photo courtesy of Overton Park Conservancy.

3. Spoil your dog. Last summer’s big reveal happened just across the Old Forest Trail from the new Rainbow Lake Playground: Overton Bark, with shady, mulched and fenced areas for large and small dogs, complete with canine water fountains.

4. Hike – and hear the story of – the Old Forest. These nature hikes, guided by Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (including my friend/Memphis expert Jimmy Ogle), explore 1.5 miles of the old-growth forest/state natural area where wildflowers and some 11 species of oak thrive. It’s an enchanting landscape with an even more captivating story – ask your guide how a few neighbors saved it from becoming a freeway last century. Tours are free for all ages the second Saturday and last Sunday of every month (this month, that’s 9/14 and 9/29, 10-11:30 a.m.) – regardless of weather. Meet at the east end of Old Forest Lane, near the dog park. Call 901-278-2396 with questions.

5. See what’s next. Remember when I told you about the thrill of biking Memphis’ Greenline to Shelby Farms Park? This fall, construction begins on a connector between Overton Park and the Greenline. Whether you like to bike, run or stroll, your citywide ticket to Memphis’ great outdoors is on its way.

While I’m content to enter the park with no agenda, this event calendar aggregates happenings from the zoo to the Shell to the Old Forest Trail.

What’s your favorite way to experience Overton Park? Tell us in the comments section below.

Hi! I’m Samantha Crespo, and I am Floridian by birth, Tennessean by heart. Growing up, I vacationed in East Tennessee, so I...Read on

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