Written by Ashley Davis
Clean Memphis and Memphis Beautiful are partnering to feature Park Adopters, individuals or organizations that help to keep our parks clean, vibrant and fun for the whole family. Suzanne Shown, Park Adopter for Audubon Park, turned her own passion for the outdoors into a greater platform for local activism.
Suzanne is a Park Adopter but she also serves as the coordinator for Friends of Audubon Park. As a part of Bloom901, this group helps to ensure equitable park access and enhance park experiences for all.
We sat down with Suzanne and learned more about why she loves Memphis parks and what she hopes will be next for one of Memphis’ most popular parks.
So, first tell us how you became involved with Memphis Beautiful as a Park Adopter.
After I retired, I liked to be outdoors and do things to improve the environment. One of the first things that I did was sign up for the Master Gardeners’ program. One of the requirements for the program is to be an educator and to volunteer. Then COVID hit and all of our plant sales and volunteer activities just disappeared.
So, also during COVID, I loved to workout and one of my favorite places was Audubon Park. I would walk in the park and just pick up litter on my own. Then, through a chance meeting at the thrift store, I spoke with Paul Thomas who works for Memphis City Beautiful. I call him the Recycle King! Well, he told me that there was a program where I could officially help to pick up litter and take care of the park. So, I immediately looked into it and signed up for the program!
It worked out that I could get my volunteer hours for the Master Gardener’s program and do something good for the environment.
Can you describe for us your role as a Park Adopter? Or what could someone expect if they wanted to become a park adopter?
It’s a different experience for each adopter, depending on the person and the different needs of the park. My first intentions were to plant native flowers and also help to pick up litter in the park. There definitely was a litter problem and COVID made it a lot worse. There wasn’t as much staffing and more people were using the parks.
But it really was an easy process! You are essentially the eyes and ears of the park. You aren’t a governing body but you report back to the city any problems that may happen in the park.
You started as an individual Park Adopter. Now, you are the coordinator for Friends of Audubon Park. How did that get started?
Well, the tennis center expanded at one end of the park and several of the trees were being uprooted. Also, the playground needed improvements and we didn’t have enough trash cans.
So, I had a lot of concerns. I contacted the parks department and they asked if we would like to have a meeting. They also asked if I had any neighbors who would like to join. At that time, we weren’t an official group but we had 15 people show up to the meeting!
So, after that first meeting, we decided to form a Friends Group. We then started to work with Bloom901 and officially formed the Friends of Audubon Park.
Audubon Park just celebrated a recent groundbreaking celebration and will receive more than $8 million in improvements. You have to be excited! What do you hope is next for the park?
Well, I do have a long term vision. I hope we can add native trees and improve the walking trail. I think it would also be good to have a natural area with a butterfly garden.
We want the picnic area to be thriving! I think it’s also important that we not take any more of the land for construction. We need to keep our natural areas and native plants.
Audubon Park should live up to its history and why it was put there in the first place.
Why is it important for us to take care of the parks?
We need to realize that bottle caps, cigarette butts, and plastic bottles are very harmful to the environment. They may seem like a little item but they don’t go away. Even a cigarette butt takes 10 years to disintegrate. It can get into waterways and kill fish and other wildlife.
What one little act can be very destructive.
That’s why the Park Adopters is such a great program. If everyone would just take on their little community park and keep that clean, we can make a difference. When people see someone keeping the park clean, it will inspire others to do the same.