Epping Way's Greenway return comes as other parts of Raleigh estate vanish

By Published: May 04, 2019 4:27 PM CT

Runners in the 5k race Saturday in Raleigh to mark the formal opening of the Epping Way segment of the Wolf River Greenway may have seen the shell of an old house atop a hill by the James Road entrance to the greenway trailhead.

Work crews looking down on James Road and the runners were busy Saturday moving more dirt away from the area around the house soon to be demolished. What was once a hillside has become a cliff with fresh brown dirt rolling down it from the vibration of the heavy machinery.

The house, once shrouded by large trees and now visible from James Road, is Epping Forest Manor, the one-time home of cotton merchant Berry Brooks that included the Epping Way greenway segment.

Television footage from 1957, when Brooks was king of that year’s Cotton Carnival celebration, offers a guided tour of the home by Brooks with WREC broadcaster Russ Hodge. The collection of footage, used and unused, is posted on the Shelby County Register’s website along with lots of other home movie footage from Brooks’ hunting expeditions around the world.

The interior of the home in the film features items from his world travels and are a contrast to the ragged and splintered shell of a house getting closer and closer to the edge of a disappearing hillside.

Brooks owned 200-acres from the hilltop house to the Wolf River to the south, including the 138 acres on the other side of James Road that is now part of the greenway.

“This was part of his property. Black angus cows used to graze here,” said Keith Cole, director of the Wolf River Conservancy.

Eight-millimeter home movie footage of the Brooks home, also on the Shelby County Register’s website, shows the view from Brooks’ home atop the hill after a large snowfall. The view looks out at a vast open area with cattle grazing on it. There is no date on the footage but it was before Brooks sold the land for development in the early 1970s.

Where the conservancy has built a winding trail with a large lake and wetland areas with access off North Highland Street as well as James Road, Brooks built a country club in the 1970s that included tennis courts, a swimming pools and a clubhouse.

“Where the cattails are growing that used to be tennis courts,” Cole said as he stood near the elevated area that was where the country club was.

“We’ve purposely let that grass grow,” he said of the rise. “There are certain birds that like to nest in it. We are slowly improving the conservation value of this property.”

The country club struggled financially and was open only six to seven years, closing in the early 1980s. It was donated to Memphis City Schools in 2007 and the buildings were demolished but the foundations and other indications of its past remained.

An illegal toxic dump that had to be remediated was an unwelcome added feature the conservancy had to deal with in constructing new natural features as well as restoring other features including native grasses and plants.

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The area is still a right of way for power lines and towers that stand on a flat open area between a grove of trees with a bridge across a creek that feeds the lake and the tree line that borders the Wolf River. The path winds through the topographical changes. The trail is designed to meet specifications of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“When it gets hot outside, this is the air-conditioned section of the Greenway,” project manager Bob Wenner said as he led a small group of people including Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and his family through the grove of trees.

“We’re looking for variety, rhythm and syncopation,” Wenner said. “When we came out here just about six weeks ago and all of this area was flooded and there was water on both sides, this was like a ribbon sort of cutting through the water.”

Harris was among those who said the greenway area is not what most people think of when they hear it is in Raleigh.

“This will give people an opportunity to get outside and to be healthy and to exercise and to socialize outside the presence of a screen – I’ve got a 13 year old so that is important,” he said.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland grew up in Raleigh.

“I personally have never been back here,” he said. “It’s opening up a beautiful part of Memphis to the whole city. It was kind of shut off from people.”

Strickland said he hopes the greenway can have the same impact on building better neighborhoods that the Shelby Farms Greenline has had on the neighborhoods bordering its trail system.

Epping Way opened late last year and Cole said usage is still building but should increase now that flood waters have receded and the rough weather at the start of the year has started to improve.

“Today a person would perceive it as remote because it is remote,” Cole said. “People are going to say, ‘I can’t believe I’m in Raleigh.”

For now the area with 1.3 miles of trails and another 1.7 miles of protected bike lanes on North Highland is not connected to other areas of the Greenway.

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Nearby Kennedy Park is also part of the Greenway. It and Epping Way border the northern most leg of the Wolf River in Shelby County.

The conservancy is working on connecting those and other areas as it now begins to come up with programming for areas like Epping Way. The formal opening Saturday featured free use of Explore Bike Share bicycles and kayaking on the lake as well as the 5k and food trucks.

“You will see the conservancy doing more and more of that in the future,” Cole said. “Right now, we are focused on building this project. But we will have greater opportunities to activate the project.”


Epping Way Raleigh Wolf River Greenway Keith Cole Bob Wenner
Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.

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