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    Longtime proponent Laura Adams to lead Shelby Farms Park

    Laura Adams (photo by Lisa Buser)

    By Tom Charlier - The Commercial Appeal -

    In the midst of three major construction projects and a planning process that promises even more dramatic changes, Shelby Farms Park is getting a new leader.

    Laura Adams has been approved as the park's executive director by a search committee of the board of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, the nonprofit agency that operates the 4,500-acre facility located between East Memphis and Cordova. Her appointment takes effect Monday.

    Adams, 51, replaces Rick Masson as head of the nation's largest urban park. Masson, who announced his departure in the spring, was recently appointed by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton to direct the city's troubled General Services division.

    A longtime proponent of the park, with nine years of service in leadership and volunteer roles, Adams has been deputy director ever since the conservancy took over management of Shelby Farms under a 2007 agreement with Shelby County government.

    "I've always felt that Shelby Farms is the centerpiece of an overall green strategy for our region," she said after her appointment was announced Thursday.

    Adams, who will be paid a base salary of $120,000 annually, takes over the job at a busy time. The park this year broke ground on three major projects -- an innovative playground, a pedestrian bridge over the Wolf River and a multi-use "greenline" trail of about 6.5 miles that will link Shelby Farms with Binghamton and neighborhoods in between. The projects are slated for completion this year.

    In addition, a park master plan envisions a major expansion of Patriot Lake, the planting of 1 million trees and the development of a dozen areas featuring different landscape types. In all, some $75 million worth of improvements are planned.

    Adams' appointment isn't the only leadership change at the park. In June, Barbara Hyde, president of the J.R. Hyde III Family Foundation, was elected chairman of the conservancy board.

    Wharton, in a statement, said Adams' passion and perseverance helped get the park's improvements launched.

    "Those same traits and skills will ensure the continued success of Shelby Farms Park," he said.

    Hyde echoed that sentiment.

    "A lot of where we are now is a credit to Laura," she said. "She was an advocate for the vision for Shelby Farms Park before everyone else knew what the vision should be."

    Almost all the money for the park work comes from private fundraising. Two years ago, the Hyde Family Foundation kicked off the process by announcing a $20 million challenge grant for the park.

    --Tom Charlier: 529-2572