Shelby Farms

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Shelby Farms
Shelby farms park scenic.jpg
Scenic view in Shelby Farms park (2005)
Type Municipal
Location Memphis, Tennessee
Coordinates 35°08′20″N 89°49′57″W / 35.1388°N 89.8325°W / 35.1388; -89.8325Coordinates: 35°08′20″N 89°49′57″W / 35.1388°N 89.8325°W / 35.1388; -89.8325
Area 4,500 acres (1,800 ha)
Created 1970s
Operated by Shelby Farms Park Conservancy
Status Open all year from dawn to dusk

Shelby Farms, located in Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, is one of the twenty largest urban parks in the United States. At a size of 4,500 acres (1,800 ha), it covers more than five times the area of Central Park in New York City with 843 acres (341 ha).

Lakes, natural forests, and wetlands provide natural habitats for many smaller species close to an urban metropolitan area. Wildlife can be observed in their natural environment from the many trails in the park. Shelby Farms park is home to a bison herd.

The land that forms Shelby Farms park was derived from property that had been privately owned in the 19th century. In 1825, humanist reformer Frances Wright founded the Nashoba Commune on 670 (of her total 1,940) acres that were north of Wolf River that are now part of Shelby Farms Park and Agricenter Internationals. The purpose of the commune was provide education in practical and cultural skills in order to emancipate slaves after they had worked off their costs. Remains of a settlement from the late 19th century are still present in the modern-day park.

From 1929 until 1964 Shelby Farms was used as a penal farm operated by Shelby County Government.

Shelby Farms was opened for recreational purposes in the 1970s. In 2007, a public and private non-profit partnership was established to provide for the daily operation of the park and to plan for its future use.

In 2008, a masterplan was put in place for the redesign of the park. The re-design would provide additional hiking and biking trails as well as more opportunities for boating in a much enlarged Patriot Lake.


Encompassing about 4,500 acres (1,800 ha) of land,[1] Shelby Farms is one of the largest urban parks in the United States.[2] It is within the area of East Memphis

Several lakes, natural forests, and the wetlands of the Wolf River are situated in hilly surroundings.


Wildlife, including beavers, deer, turtles, and different species of birds, can be observed in its natural environment. Although the park is surrounded by routes used by commuter traffic, smaller species can still find habitats large enough to survive.

Shelby Farms park is home to a bison herd on 56 acres (23 ha) of pasture land. Former Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris was instrumental, along with park superintendent Tom Hill, in introducing the bison, which now number about 45.[3]


19th century[edit]

Mann family burial (2005)

In 1825, Frances Wright's Nashoba Experiment was formed on 670 acres of modern-day Shelby Farms park north of Wolf River with the remainder in today's Germantown, Tennessee, south of Wolf River. On 1,940 acres (790 ha) of woodland, humanist reformer Frances Wright, an opponent of slavery, founded a multi-racial commune of slaves, free blacks and whites to prepare slaves and former slaves for their future freedom. Wright believed in the emancipation of slaves by providing education for them in practical and cultural skills.[4]

Remains of an early settlement from the late 19th century can be found at the eastern tip of Shelby Farms park, consisting of ruins of a residential building, a disintegrated barn, car wrecks dating from the 1950s and 1960s, old fences and a family burial site.

In 2005, the family burial site of the Mann family exists with just one grave marker remaining. The last two documented deaths, as indicated on that remaining gravestone, date back to November 25, 1891 for Robert W. Mann and December 5, 1891 for Mary S. Mann. Five or more graves are marked only by their base stones.[5]

Shelby County acquired 1,600 acres (650 ha) of land in 1928 for use as a penal farm.[4] The remaining formerly private property of 2,900 acres (1,200 ha) was incorporated into the Penal Farm between then and December 1940, when the Shelby County Commission authorized the purchase of the final 1,383 acres (560 ha), bringing the total to 4,450 acres (1,800 ha).[6]

Penal farm[edit]

From 1929 until 1964 Shelby Farms was used as a penal farm, in which the prisoners of the Shelby County Corrections Center were involved in agricultural labor to provide food for inmates and staff, or to sell overproduction for profit on behalf of the state of Tennessee.[7]

Parts of Shelby Farms are still used as a semipenal farm. Some inmates of the Shelby County Corrections Center as well as individuals sentenced to community service are required to do yard work to keep Shelby Farms fields in shape or to pick up litter on nearby streets.

Since the 1970s[edit]

In the 1970s the Shelby County Commission opened the area for recreational purposes.

The Shelby Farms Park Alliance (SFPA) was granted a conservation easement by the Shelby County Commission in December 2006. The easement restricts commercial and residential development in the park area for 50 years.[8][9]

In 2007, an agreement was signed between the Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton and the SFPA, forming the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy (SFPC), a public and private non-profit partnership established by Shelby County government to help provide day-to-day operations of the park and to develop a planning process for the future of Shelby Farms park.[10][11]


A masterplan was put in place in 2008 to direct a major re-design of the park. As of the summer of 2015, construction was in progress for an extension of Patriot Lake to accommodate for more boating and surfing activities and to extend the paved trail around the lake. Additional hiking and biking trails have been proposed and 1,000,000 new trees are planned to be planted.[4]


Hiking and biking trails meandering through the park allow visitors to observe wildlife and nature. On two lakes rowing boats are allowed. On one of latter two lakes, Patriot Lake, pedal boats can be rented. There is a 1.67-mile (2.7 km) paved trail around Patriot Lake. Another paved trail, the 2.75-mile (4.4 km) long Chickasaw Trail, is available to hikers. An unpaved trail, the Tour de Wolf, takes hikers and bikers through the woods of Shelby Farms Park for 6.08 miles (9.8 km). The paved trails are suitable for walking, running, biking, and roller-blading. The Tour de Wolf is suitable for walking, running, and mountain-biking. Off-leash dog activities are designated in a 120-acre (49 ha) area that includes meadows, lakes and hiking trails.

Shelby Farms Greenline is a 10.65-mile (17.14 km) multi-use urban rail trail running from Shelby Farms to Tillman Street in the Binghampton neighborhood, near Midtown, Memphis.[12] The trail was constructed over a closed CSX railway line. Shelby Farms Greenline is managed and operated by Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that also manages Shelby Farms Park. The Greenline opened in October 2010.[13] Shelby Farms Greenline is the longest, continuous urban trail in the Memphis area.[citation needed] It is also the first trail in Tennessee to use a pedestrian hybrid beacon at two major crossings: Highland and Graham.[citation needed]

Horseback riding is allowed in parts of the park and on a few trails. Horses can be rented as well. A designated runway to start and land miniature radio control aircraft is present in the park for public use.

An 18-hole disc golf course is located near the welcome center of the park.[14]

A BMX race track sanctioned by USA BMX is located at 6435 Walnut Grove Rd.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shelby Farms Park Info Archived 2010-01-26 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ The Trust for Public Land: The 150 Largest City Parks[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Tom Charlier Oh, give me a home ... where new buffalo roam at Shelby Farms to improve bloodline Commercial Appeal, February 1, 2009 (Accessed October 27, 2009)
  4. ^ a b c "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2008-08-31.  SFPC Master Plan
  5. ^ - RootsWeb
  6. ^ Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper, 03 Dec 1940
  7. ^ Commercial Appeal, Memphis
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-26.  Shelby Farms Park Alliance (SFPA) conservation effort
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-08-26. Article
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-26.  Management agreement between SFPA and Shelby County
  11. ^ Shelby Farms Park Conservancy (SFPC)
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-06-08. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  13. ^ (
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-26.  Disk golf in Shelby Farms Park
  15. ^ (

External links[edit]