New 15-mile loop trail opens in South Knox
Knoxville has a new place to hike and bike as the city cut the ribbon on a network of trails south of the Tennessee River.
City and County officials and donors joined the Legacy Parks Foundation for the ribbon cutting at a new 15-mile loop trail in South Knoxville.
The South Loop within Knoxville's Urban Wilderness connects Ijams Nature Center, the Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area, William Hastie Natural Area and Marie Myers Park.
The city says the complete trail system features an additional 17 miles that spur from the main loop. Kiosks and trail signs will be installed to help cyclists, hikers and runners.
"There aren't very many cities that have 35 miles of hiking and biking trails within two miles from their downtown," said Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero.
The trail is a big step in linking parks and natural areas in South Knoxville.
More importantly, it's a way Knoxville can be branded as an outdoor and recreational destination. Leading that charge is Carol Evans, Executive Director of The Legacy Parks Foundation, the organization that raised a majority of the money to build the trail.
"It's very accessible to everyone, whether you live here or come to visit. So it's a really statement that we are kind of that city, and have great places to recreate right in the city," said Evans.
Legacy Parks Foundation had to acquire eight properties for the project.
The key property donors are: Former Knoxville Mayor and Ambassador to Poland, Victor Ashe; the Knoxville Greenways Coalition and the Knoxville Track Club.
The South Loop is one part of the Urban Wilderness project. It's part of 1,000 acres of urban forest that will connect a nature education center, three Civil War forts, a state wildlife management area and ten city parks when it's completed.
The next phase will move the project toward Alcoa Highway.
Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, who was a champion of greenways during his administration, sees even more possibility. Ashe gave $25,000 to help build the trail.
"It could simply be the foundation for a connection onto the Smokies, either through Gatlinburg or through Townsend, and say South Knoxville out to East Knox County or West Knox County," Ashe said.
Some of the city's greenways provide a link from the south loop to and from downtown. The trails connect to the Wilton Shelton Greenway near the Island Home Neighborhood, located around 2.5 miles from downtown.
"The proximity to downtown is one of our strongest assets with this trail system," said Brian Hann, president of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club.
Many hope easier access to trails and waterways will also result in an economic boost. The outdoor recreation industry is a $646 billion business in this country.
Evans said $2.2 million in real estate transactions have taken place along the loop in anticipation of it being built.
"From the business prospective and the residential prospective, parks and trails really do make a difference," said Evans.
The Appalachian Mountain Bike Club designed and built the trails. It took several years for members to design, build, and re-construct some of the trials.
"If you're a hiker, biker or trail-runner, you're going to have a good time on these trails," said Hann.