Containing 13,467 acres, Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park near Memphis is the most visited state park in Tennessee. Initially known as Shelby Forest State Park, it began as a New Deal recreation demonstration area of the National Park Service during the 1930s. Edward J. Meeman, avid conservationist and editor of the Memphis Press-Scimitar, had interviewed Adolph Hitler and was impressed with forest reclamation projects in Germany, finding similarities between the land there and eroded southern land. In a series of newspaper editorials and private conversations with public officials, Meeman insisted that forests in his region could be made to prosper once again. He worked with State Forester James O. Hazard to identify a potential park area in Shelby County, and in 1933 the National Park Service provided Shelby County money and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) labor for the park’s initial development.
The National Park Service and the Resettlement Administration supervised the CCC crews and, later, Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers at the park. The Tennessee Game and Fish Commission supervised wildlife control projects. Land clearing came in 1935, and officials focused on establishing a wildlife reserve, replanting the forests, reclaiming eroded land, and building recreational facilities. The CCC planted trees, built trails and a group camp area, and dammed a lake. The WPA built cabins and various recreational structures; the largest was the Administration Building, which housed an auditorium, recreation hall, and cafeteria. By 1941 the park had picnic areas, playgrounds, a group camp, the Administration Building, cabins, trails, and a swimming area; officials announced that more facilities, including a lake, swimming pool, and horse barn, would soon be under construction. World War II intervened, however, and the new facilities were not built. In 1944 the National Park Service transferred the park to the state. Five years later, under state supervision, park development began again.
Over half of Meeman-Shelby Forest is a wildlife management area supervised by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency under an agreement with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Within the park, many species of birds, including the rare Mississippi Kite, may be seen; wild mammals include white-tailed deer, foxes, and raccoons. Reclamation efforts also have been very successful. As early as 1962, state conservation officials were bragging of the park’s success in regenerating valuable stands of southern hardwoods. State Naturalist Mack Prichard observes that the park is “one of the prime examples of hardwood forest regeneration. Some of the trees there gain up to an inch in diameter a year. It’s one of the fastest-growing forests we have.” (1)