It’s an oddity Knoxville residents are coming to accept, though it would likely still be jarring to an out-of-town visitor who hadn’t been prepared: Hundreds of acres of inter-connected, forested trails for riding, running and walking located just minutes from the urban core of the city. The Baker Creek Preserve represents a one-hundred acre, 2013, donation by the Wood family. Easily accessible, it is quickly becoming a favorite spot for young biking enthusiasts, runners of all ages and advanced cyclists.
On a recent beautiful afternoon, Urban Woman and I took the opportunity to check it out. Located near the end of the James White Parkway, it is hoped that the entrance will eventually be there, though it is currently located at 3700 Lancaster Dr. Upon our arrival, we found local sculptor Kelly Brown of Bower Bird Sculpture, along with Wilson Browning lifting a structure designed for children. The site is connected to South Doyle Middle by a recently developed trail, providing easy access to the burgeoning park. It also borders several south Knoxville neighborhoods, at least one of which has developed their own connecting trail.
Carol Evans, Executive Director of Legacy Parks, which manages the Urban Wilderness, met us there and explained the park is not only the result of the generous donation from the Wood family, but of a number of grants allowing for the building of trails and other amenities. A $200,000 state grant to Legacy Parks for construction of recreational trails coincided with a $15,000 matching grant won by the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club. The most publicized and best known grant may be the grant from Bell Helmets who provided $100,000 for a Double Black Diamond trail – the highest rating given to a bike trail – to be developed on the property. The resulting .6 mile Devil’s Racetrack Downhill is a special trail attracting advanced riders from throughout the region.
The focal point for development at the moment is an area specifically for children. Earthadelic completed the landscape design and the Siddiqi Foundation provided the materials. The Professional Trailbuilder’s Association agreed to construct the trail connecting the park and the school. It’s a trail that also serves as a safe way for students to walk to school. REI also provided a grant to Legacy Parks and the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club. The result is a children’s pump track for starters – a place for children to practice trail riding.
The plot includes a 1.2 mile easy loop for walking or biking, but also includes “bike only” trails of progressing difficulty shooting off the main loop. Ms. Evans explained this is the first part of the urban wilderness to feature trails exclusively for bikes, given that on the site, “there are sufficient trails for everyone.” Eventually it will become more of a proper bike park as additional amenities are added. It is connected to the twelve-mile main loop, as well as the additional forty-two miles of spur trails via the Redbud Bridge.
The property, which was thoroughly logged in an earlier era, still includes some very old Sycamore trees, including the large one pictured here with Ms. Evans. You’ll find it along the Sycamore trail named for that tree. The dog friendly trails also include “Best Medicine” trail, so named for retired physician Kevin Zirkle who has devoted many hours to trail building. Pappy’s Way, named after a local moonshiner, takes hikers to some of the best views afforded from the property, with the windmills of Buffalo Mountain and the Smoky Mountains visible in the distance. Turn around and you might catch a glimpse of the Knoxville Skyline.
This special place will be highlighted by the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club when they host their Fall Festival, Saturday, November 5. You’ll find group rides and skills classes for all levels. Races, music, beer, silent auctions and lots of fun for the children, with a climbing wall and climbing nets, as well as that cool structure you saw being erected in the photos above. Lunch will be available from the Sweet and Savory Truck and dinner will be available from Sweet P’s BBQ.
Whether you make the fall festival, I’d encourage you to make it out to the park. A parking lot is available beside the old home of Sevier Heights Baptist Church and from there it’s an easy step onto the trail and you are off into a beautiful east Tennessee treasure. Practically in sight of the city. It’s pretty magical. Get out and explore, Knoxville.
Programming note: You’ll hear an interview with Carol Evans November 6 on WUTK, 90.3, at 10:00 AM on Knoxcentric: Powered by Inside of Knoxville. I also hope to have a representative of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club.