Carol Evans speaks with steady assurance when discussing the plans and goals for the Legacy Parks Foundation. “Recreation, for us, is land preservation. Our focus is protecting our land and waterways. We have a large number of parks and views, but a priority is to better connect people to these amenities.”
Carol’s family, like many military families, lived in multiple places during her early years, resulting in her attending thirteen different schools. Arriving in Knoxville in 1982, she found the only true home she has known. With a communications and marketing background, she worked in television, public relations and marketing, including jobs with the Chamber of Commerce, for Scripps and for Dogwood Arts.
It was in her capacity on the Knox County Park Advisory Board in 2005 that she helped develop the idea of a foundation to support area parks. She would become the executive director of the organization in 2007. The feeling was that parks are continually under-funded and that people would likely support parks and land acquisition if a simple and easy mechanism was in place to accept those gifts. Giving to a particular park, for example, would be very complicated if the recipient was the city or county government. As Carol put it, “The opportunity to lead initiatives has evolved. We’re a little more free to be nimble and entrepreneurial. We’re able to connect the dots more than a governmental department, more broadly and quickly.”
Both the city and the county agreed to commitments of $50,000 dollars apiece for each of the first three years as seed money. It’s a commitment they have continued in subsequent years as the success and value of the foundation have become apparent. Tommy Schumpert, as the first chairperson of the committee, provided immediate credibility for fundraising. The accomplishments cemented their credibility.
Clayton Park in north Knoxville, one of the first projects, existed only as a dream before Legacy Parks raised $625,000 in four months to purchase private land for its construction. Still, Carol insists it was a community-driven project in which community members envisioned the park, identified the property and sought help in raising the necessary money.
In 2008, the idea of the Urban Wilderness began to take shape. The Rose property, a centerpiece of the project, included sixty prime acres for which 1.5 million dollars was raised. In other instances, donations are made, such as when Ross Marble Quarry donated just over 100 acres to Legacy Parks, which it then handed over to Ijams Nature Center. The company also donated $50,000 for demolition of structures and development of the acreage.
Actually beginning as the “Urban Wilderness and Historic Corridor,” it evolved as a concept. Brian Hann of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club approached Legacy Parks to inform them of what mountain bikers were already doing. The two organizations began to work together and quickly purchased eight parcels to add to the Ross Marble Quarry property. TWRA soon began allowing trail establishment on an additional adjoining five-hundred acres and helped the group coordinate with others using the property. As hunting has diminished in the state, TWRA has recognized that other groups are interested in their holdings of preserved land.
In total the Urban Wilderness now includes over a thousand acres of land with recreational access. Some is private, some is state land and other parcels are controlled locally. Achieving connectivity has been the driving goal and that goal has largely been realized. “We attain and develop the assets, but don’t manage them,” said Evans, “That is something that needs to be formalized as we move forward.”
So far, acquisitions have fit into other, existing, structures, such as Ijams or the city or county park systems. Up to this point, conversations before acquisitions have clarified who will accept the land from the Legacy Parks Foundation. They have not held land for long before turning it over, but that may or may not always be the case, Evans told me. The implication seemed to be that some property may be deemed worth preservation, but may not immediately fit into the mission or capacity of one of the usual organizations or governments.
Each parcel of land is unique and the foundation fields offers and suggestions often. Where possible, they like donations of land, but some property donations may not be accepted if it doesn’t seem to fit the mission of the organization. If it does, they spearhead acquisition, either through donation or purchase. They connect with the community and sometimes help fund amenities. Grants sometimes offer help, as in the case of a recent $200,000 state grant which facilitated placement of trails on 100 acres.
These decisions and management of land require determination of highest use for property, the preservation value and each of these as seen in the context of the land. She points out that land is a very personal subject. Some people give because they value a particular use for the land, others have a connection to a specific location.
And so they celebrate. Next week, September 7 – 11 has been dubbed, “Wild Week,” and will include several events designed to raise funds for the foundation. It starts next Monday with a screening of the movie, “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon and based on the memoir of the same name by Cheryl Strayed. Ms. Strayed will be on hand on Friday to speak to the annual luncheon – which has sold out the one thousand tickets.
In an effort to support the project and help celebrate the tenth anniversary, PYXL, a local digital marketing firm, underwrote and donated the production of ten videos featuring ten of our finest musicians performing in ten locations consistent with the kind of work being done by the Legacy Parks Foundation. The concept was developed by Bob Deck and Amy Gibson of AK Consulting, who filmed and recorded the artists in the selected settings. I’ve included a couple of the videos which were filmed near downtown: Sam Quinn at Fort Dickerson Quarry and Cruz Contreras at Mead’s Quarry. You can see each of the ten here.
If you are interested in donating to the Legacy Parks Foundation or you wish to have more information regarding their goals and current projects, you may contact them via their website.
In an unrelated matter, “congratulations” go out to Janine Al-Aseer who won the opportunity to rappel down the Langley Building last Saturday. She passed it on to her uncle Dave Hicks, whose death was NOT reported by local media, so I assume he made it over safely. Thanks to everyone who entered, and watch for more giveaways soon.