It takes some effort and a good bit of desire to find Outdoor Knoxville. I really wanted to find it Saturday to see what was up with Outdoor Knoxfest, which was an effort to raise money for the Legacy Parks Foundation and to promote outdoor activities in an urban environment. Within our city limits or county we have at least one good-sized mountain (House Mountain), a significant river, forty miles of urban wilderness trails as well as many miles of greenway.
The Legacy Parks Foundation started the Outdoor Knoxville initiative in order to develop Knoxville’s brand as an outdoor recreation destination. Probably the crown jewel of the effort is piecing together an 11.5 or 12.5 (depending on whether you read their website or look at the printed maps they sold Saturday) mile loop trail starting and ending at Ijams Nature Park. I think it’s calling my name on a Saturday sometime soon. Anybody interested?
The activities Saturday included kayaking at Volunteer landing. Helpful people were stationed at the kayaks to help novices climb in and paddle into the river. Quite a few people made the trek to the riverside for a spin while I watched. There were also a couple of massive water tricycles, but I didn’t see anybody tackling those.
I had to ask where to find Outdoor Knoxville from there and I was directed around Ruth Chris Steakhouse. Sure enough, on the other side of the steakhouse is a fine looking building bearing signage declaring itself to, in fact, be “Outdoor Knoxville. It’s down a step hillside and across the street from the James White Fort. How would anyone know?
Booths were set up regarding all things outdoors and even some (Trader Joe’s) that stretched the idea. A few dozen people checked out the displays while others tried out the bicycles built for two. Instructors offered help with the art of fly-fishing. For this they used the pool at the bottom of a large, man-made waterfall.
A climb up that steep hill revealed rock climbing and corn hole games between grandmothers and their grandchildren (among others). Located just across the street from the James White Fort, this portion of the small campus includes the bicycle sculpture you may have heard about, as well as an overlook extending out over the river bluff.
It was a great weekend of activities including hikes and medium to longer bicycle rides. Mountain bike and trail bike riding were also offered, along with bicycle maintenance classes. Sidewalk chalk drawing, yoga and even a singles disk golf tournament appeared sprinkled around the two-day schedule.
As I walked back toward the main part of town, to Market Square which contained at that moment far more people with no visible attraction, I wondered if we might not do better at getting the word out. A visitor to the city on Saturday or Sunday could have spent both days downtown and never had a clue that a river lay just out of site and certainly not that this event with all its outdoor fun sat just a stone’s throw (or two) away from the heart of the city.
We’ve got to get signs directing people to the river and I think we’ve got to do more than that. There should be a shuttle that takes people to the river and runs a regular circuit, bringing loads back every fifteen minutes. Somehow we have to capitalize on the natural resources that offer another unique feature of our city. Until we can figure out how to make that connection, we will find it very difficult to re-brand ourselves in such a manner.