On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in September, Memphis families are taking full advantage of the new amenities offered at Shelby Farms’ Heart of the Park, the retooling of the park’s lakefront. Children splash in the water spray park, families stroll with dogs beside Hyde Lake (formerly Patriot Lake and renamed in honor of park supporters Pitt and Barbara Hyde), and teens skim kayaks and stand-up paddle boards across the pristine water.
“I don’t know how many visitors have come through since the Heart of the Park reopened [September 1], but it’s been thousands,” notes Natalie Wilson, Shelby Farms’ senior manager of events and programs.
As for me, I’m riding the new bike trail around the perimeter of the now 80-acre lake. I often weave past pedestrians when cycling through the park. So having two separate pathways around the lake — one for walkers, the other for bikers/skaters/skateboarders — is a win in my book. What’s more, you can rent hybrids and cruiser bikes at the Wheel House, just steps away from the First Tennessee Foundation Visitors Center. I stop to walk through the sleek center, which boasts two meeting rooms, a gift shop, bathrooms, and a deep, welcoming patio where industrial-sized fans keep visitors cool. Parents lounge in crayon-colored Adirondack chairs while kids munch on snacks from the Kitchenette, the park’s new grab-and-go cafe.
The views from here? Simply amazing.
Just below the center is the new Boathouse, where business is brisk as kids try their hand at kayaking and paddle boarding. Wilson says they’ll soon be offering boating lessons and paddle board yoga in addition to the various exercise classes now on the roster.
The Kitchen, Shelby Farms’ other new restaurant (owned by Hugo Matheson and Kimbal Musk, brother of Tesla’s Elon Musk), is a few hundred yards further east on the lake, with a sophisticated patio all its own. Adjoining it is the 7,000-square-foot FedEx Event Center. I speak with several visitors who rave about the food, although it is a bit pricey ($15 pasta dishes to $35 ribeyes). Kim Rossie and her husband order two cheeseburgers, and with drinks and tip, their bill totals $58.
“Was that a bit much for cheeseburgers? Probably,” Rossie admits with a laugh. “But I’d pay for the view; it’s gorgeous.”
The most popular addition for children is the Water Play spray ground, a gated park with a series of geyser-like fountains. Parents will appreciate the playground’s size, as kids are always within view, but when everyone’s running and playing, it can quickly feel cramped.
All told, this is one of many additions that have made this renovation well worth the wait. But don’t take my word for it, go see for yourself.
Kayak or canoe: $15/hour
Paddle board: $18/hour
$5/per child. Closed until spring.
Wheelhouse bike rentals
(2/hour | 4/hour)
29er/Hybrid: $18 | $30
Cruiser: $15 | $25
Trailer: $12 | $17
One-hour rental: $10
Freelance writer Jane Schneider is an avid cyclist and the former editor of MP.