About 100 FedEx employees communed with nature Wednesday and prepared a north central Memphis section of Wolf River Greenway for others to enjoy.
They planted trees, uprooted invasive privet, installed trail markers, cleaned up litter and erected bat houses in the greenway’s Epping Way section, which will officially open Saturday.
It was part of FedEx’s 10-year-old partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the nation’s largest provider of private conservation grants for projects that protect and restore fish, wildlife, plants and habitat.
The foundation has partnered with FedEx to do 151 projects, restore 4,400 acres, plant 300,000 trees and put about 4,000 FedEx employees to work, said Tony Chatwin, vice president of science and evaluation for the foundation.
In addition to workers from FedEx’s home base in Memphis, about 400 other FedEx employees around the country were scheduled to work on foundation-organized projects Wednesday.
Standing in a flooded bog in shin-high, waterproof boots, FedEx Trade Networks employee Tosha Knox was well-prepared for the task of planting cypress tree seedlings.
“I got off work at 7:30 and came straight here,” said Knox, 40, who works in an accounting department that supports customs clearance of international shipments.
“I go fishing and hunting, so when I saw this was a lake for people to come fish and walk the trail, I was like, ‘One day I might want to come out here and enjoy fishing over here.’ I can come back and say, ‘Hey, I planted some of these trees and cleaned up around here, made it look nice to help connect everything.’”
Knox said she might even try her luck after work was done Wednesday. “I put my fishing rod in the car. I may try it out today after we finish,” she said.
The Epping Way trail and nature area are near the midpoint of the Wolf River Greenway, which will eventually form a 23-mile paved trail from Mud Island to Germantown. Its grand opening is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 27. The trail is accessible from North Highland and from Epping Way, which runs off James Road east of Highland.
The 138-acre natural area has been open since last summer. Owned by the Wolf River Conservancy, it includes a 1-mile paved path, a 25-acre lake and about 40 acres in agricultural use, said Keith Cole, executive director.
“Ironically, we’re doing our grand opening Saturday, so what you’re doing will help us get ready for the grand opening,” Cole told FedEx workers, who were joined by volunteers from the conservancy and Clean Memphis.
Chatwin presented Mitch Jackson, chief sustainability officer for FedEx Corp., with a vintage decoy of a mallard duck that’s native to the Memphis area. “It has a broad range, but not as broad as FedEx,” Chatwin said.
Jackson said FedEx aims to connect people and communities in a responsible, resourceful way, and “a piece of that is to better the community itself, and to better the communities where our team members work and live.”
“If we have resilient and cleaner and more sustainable communities, our team members are engaged, they’re enthused, they bring that to the work environment, and they provide better service to our customers and to our share owners,” Jackson said. “That voluntarism piece is a clear component of our program.”
Jackson’s department last week released a 2019 Global Citizenship Report, a report card on economic, environmental and social goals, that said FedEx workers gave nearly 82,000 volunteer hours in fiscal 2018, and the company gave more than $55 million in charitable contributions.
Dermot Murray, a corporate social responsibility manager at FedEx and board member of the Wolf River Conservancy, was part of a group that put up bat houses along the trail. Murray said the service project goes hand in hand with FedEx’s sustainability program.
“Environmental sustainability is a big part of our corporate social responsibility strategy,” Murray said. “Engaging team members, having them come out for these types of volunteer events, contributing to conserving and protecting the environment in their local communities, really fits in closely with that overarching focus we have about being a good corporate citizen and being a socially and environmentally responsible business as well,” Murray added.
Murray, 49, said amenities such as the Wolf River Greenway will help FedEx and other Memphis companies recruit and retain talent, while also providing health and recreation benefits for nearby communities.
“More and more as younger people are looking for job opportunities, they’re thinking about the places where there’s a good local environment, where they can get outdoors, have recreational opportunities,” Murray said.
“Having this resource here is a great way to attract and retain younger folks who we want to attract and keep for companies like FedEx, International Paper, whoever it is,” Murray said.
Fred Del Real, who works in international product marketing for FedEx Services, said the greenway project was a way to give something back to the community.
“After all, we live here and we’re part of the community. This area is so nice, so beautiful. It’s not in every city that you get to see a path like this one, right next to nature. We’re giving our little tiny piece,” said Del Real, 50, who moved to Memphis from Miami a year ago to work for FedEx.
“This is also a very good opportunity to get to know our new surroundings,” Del Real said.