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    Shelby Farms Park scrambles for contributions

    By Tom Charlier - The Commercial Appeal -

    Faced with a troubled economy and operating costs of nearly $7,000 a day, Shelby Farms Park officials have adopted ever-more aggressive and creative fundraising tactics, even using a bass-fishing tournament to reel in dollars.

    Now, with an anonymous donor offering to match all gifts up to $150,000 made before June 30, the group operating the park is scrambling to solicit new contributions.

    "It's a really generous gift and a great opportunity for us...," said Laura Adams, executive director of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. "You just don't get this kind of opportunity very often."

    Adams urged park supporters to donate, either by becoming a conservancy member or by giving in some other form outlined on the website shelbyfarmspark.org. With the match, the park will get $2 for every dollar a new supporter donates through the end of the month.

    The effort to find contributions to match the offer from the anonymous donor underscores the challenges the park faces in raising money for operations.

    The conservancy, a private, non-profit group, took over management of the park from Shelby County in 2008.

    Under a contract with the conservancy, the county contributes about $576,000 annually, plus equipment, to the park. That means the conservancy must raise nearly $2 million of its 2013 operating budget of $2.55 million.

    Amid rough economic times, the conservancy reduced its budget slightly from the 2012 figure of $2.6 million.

    The park is located within 4,500 acres of public land bounded by the Wolf River on the west and south and Germantown Parkway on the east.

    Since taking over the management, the conservancy has overseen the addition of the 6.5-mile Shelby Farms Greenline bicycle-pedestrian trail, the $3.5 million Woodland Discovery Playground, and a bicycle-pedestrian bridge across the Wolf.

    "We've taken on some very big projects that have a large operational impact," Adams said.

    The park has a staff of 20, led by Adams, who earns a $120,000 annual salary.

    The conservancy raises money through a number of means, including memberships, races and other public events and corporate sponsorships.

    Later this month, a new and different type of event will benefit the park. A bass tournament slated for Pickwick Lake on June 23-24 should generate at least $15,000, said park supervisor Brian Wylie, the outdoors enthusiast who came up with the idea.

    The tournament also will spread publicity about Shelby Farms, he said, noting that anglers from as far away as Texas will be participating.

    "With all the activities we have going on, I wanted to bring some diversity to our fundraising," Wylie said.

    In addition to raising operating funds, the conservancy has been engaged in a long-term capital campaign to raise $75 million to fund improvements -- including a major expansion of Patriot Lake -- outlined in a park master plan. So far, the group has secured $43 million toward that goal, Adams said.

    County Public Works director Tom Needham said the conservancy, with its access to private funds, is managing Shelby Farms on a higher level than the county ever could.

    "They are doing a good job with it," Needham said.

    -- Tom Charlier: (901) 529-2572