Ijams Expanded with the Help of Grayson Subaru: Is the Urban Wilderness Knoxville’s Central Park?

Mead's Quarry, Ijams Nature Center, Knoxville, 2016
Mead’s Quarry, Ijams Nature Center, Knoxville, 2016

In a nice turn, Ijams Nature Center and, as a result, Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness have grown. Grayson Subaru donated $60,000 toward a project that began with the purchase of 13.4 acres adjacent to Mead’s Quary for Ijams Nature Center. It brings Ijam’s total acreage to just over 315 and boosts the total land connected by the Urban Wilderness further past 1,000 acres.

Sales Manager Randy Carter of Grayson Subaru said, “Grayson has been waiting for the perfect project to come along to help Ijams in a big way, while giving Grayson a permanent presence at the center.” The entrance to the new acreage is just past the Quarry entrance on the same side of Island home. “It features riparian wetlands along two creeks as well as upland habitat that includes a small cedar glade and secondary growth forest.”

Amber Parker, executive director of the nature center said, “This site has great potential and brings additional diversity to the Ijams landscape, and what we create will serve as a model for nature play areas across the country. Our goal is to have a space that allows parents to give their children a bit more freedom to roam, as many of us did when we were kids, but with the oversight and safety considerations required by modern parents.”

The purchase isn’t the end of the story, however. Much work will have to be done to prepare the site for its primary use: a nature area designed for three-to-five-year-olds. Much of the work will happen this winter as staff assesses the need for, “nonnative plant removal, stream restoration, trail planning and building this winter.” Since the area was previously farmland, there could also be machinery, wells or other issues with which they must deal. Late spring is the target date for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

For the non-profit Ijams Nature Center, it’s part of a plan to extend their mission of nature education, as they have announced plans for a Nature Preschool program to start next year:

Our Nature Preschool will focus on child-led, age-appropriate, and experiential learning for children ages 3-5. Most of the day will be spend outdoors, exploring nature and making a strong connection with the environment. Not only will children develop a solid foundation for lifelong learning, but they will also cultivate a love of nature that is the basis for a conservation ethic later in life.

To be considered a Nature-Based Preschool, nature must be at the heart of the program. While Nature Preschools have the same child development goals as any other high quality preschool, the curriculum and teachers achieve these developmental goals through nature-based experiences.

As I mentioned last week, Urban Woman, Urban Girl and myself just returned from a visit to New York City. One of the highlights of the trip was enjoying more time in Central Park than on past trips. As we engaged the amenities there, from the small zoo to the petting zoo, carousel, rock outcroppings for climbing, large meadows for contemplating and the fact that it sits in the center of one of the world’s largest cities, my mind turned to our own Urban Wilderness.

Central Park, New York City, October 2017
Central Park, New York City, October 2017
Central Park, New York City, October 2017
Central Park, New York City, October 2017

Granted, they are two very different spaces and with a different focus in many respects, but they overlap in some ways. As the connection from downtown Knoxville is improved and the entrance more understandably accessible to larger groups, it holds the promise to enhance the lives of our citizenry while only growing our reputation, much as Central Park does for New York City. And there’s this: Central park comes in at 843 acres. Not bad. It’s over 80% as big as our urban wilderness which, thanks to this gift from Grayson Subaru, continues to grow. Just sayin’.

The Ijams grounds and trails are open every day from 8 a.m.until dusk. The Visitor Center is open Monday through Saturday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and Sunday 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. For more information, visit Ijams.org or call 865-577-4717.