Fort Kid to be Spared Thanks to Donations

Fort Kid, Knoxville, January 2013

It’s been a part of our family off and on since it was built in the early 1990s. I have vague memories of work days with Urban Daughter tagging along with a friend. Maybe the mind does tricks. But she and friends went there and it was part of their childhood even though we lived in Rocky Hill at the time.

Fast forward a couple of decades and we moved downtown in 2009. As soon as Urban Girl was running around, she knew the difference between the “colorful playground” (World’s Fair Park) and the “wooden playground,” known to the rest of the world as Fort Kid. Depending on the outing she had a preference for one or the other or some days she wanted both. Urban Boy has followed in her steps and they’ve both loved the playgrounds.

Just a few years ago there was a face lift to the playground, but that didn’t turn out to be all that it needed. The city closed it last fall and, try as I might, I could not get Urban Girl to cross the yellow caution tape to enjoy a playground all to herself. Apparently, “caution tape means danger.” What happened to daredevil youth?

Fort Kid, Knoxville, January 2013

As it turns out, Thomas Boyd played on that playground as a youngster and wants his daughter and others to be able to do the same. He’s “helping to raise funds needed for a public-private collaboration to re-energize and upgrade the playground, which was constructed by volunteers 28 years ago and is in need of major repairs.”

The City of Knoxville designated $300,000 from its current budget to make the park safe again. That money will get into play this fall when the city replaces the compromised retaining wall with a gentle slope which should be longer lasting. Thomas Boyd (owner of Rebel Kitchen, Old City Wine Bar, Barley’s and Merchants of Beer) has pledged $200,000 and an anonymous donor has pledged another $100,000.

The project has the support of Knoxville Museum of Art Executive Director David Butler who sees potential to incorporate Fort Kid into KMA activities for children. Mayor Rogero has expressed gratitude for the support and the city’s commitment to retaining the community amenity. She says the community will once again be tapped for volunteer work in the planning and restoration.

Urban Girl at Fort Kid, Knoxville, Autumn 2013

Mr. Boyd is also planning a fund-raising concert and will announce details soon. “Fort Kid has always been a much-loved and central part of our downtown community.”Growing up in Knoxville and having gone to Fort Kid as a child absolutely helped develop not only my love of this playground, but also my love of our downtown. I can’t wait for my own child to experience this improved version of one of my favorite childhood memories!”

According to the press release, “The Fort Kid playground off World’s Fair Park Drive temporarily closed in November 2018 after a Knox County Health Department inspector responded to a citizen complaint and found a number of problems, such as exposed nails, trip hazards and splintered wooden components. The Public Building Authority over the winter made minor repairs to the City-owned playground, which reopened March 28.”

Fort Kid, Knoxville, January 2013

The playground is not ADA compliant and the deteriorating structures pose safety problems. Once the slope is repaired, improvements to the site can begin — probably next year. In the meantime, design and amenities of the improved playground will be open to public comment in a design charrette to be scheduled later this year.

“The City and its partners hope to complete the fundraising and design work for the new play area by the time the site preparation begins and the playground is closed temporarily at the end of this year. Work on the landscaping and new amenities will begin once the grassy slope is in place.”

Look for opportunities to volunteer suggestions and muscle, to donate money and to generally support the effort to return the play ground to its important role for Fort Sanders, downtown and near downtown children.


  1. Brian Ewers says

    Thanks to Thomas Boyd, Anonymous Donor and the City of Knoxville for working together to save Fort Kid.I helped build it VOLunteering with my college buddies when were in school at UT, then later in life, took my kids there to play. Lots of great memories and glad to know it will survive to provide memories for the next generations, without the splinters !

  2. This is exciting! Looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate as a community!

  3. Kenneth M. Moffett says

    Talk of a grassy slope in lieu of the crumbling wall of used railroad ties would seem to indicate an extensive incursion into the present area of the playground structures. That, and mention of “new amenities” and “no splinters” seems to imply that all new play structures will replace the existing. Fort Kid’s popularity arose in large measure from its character as a diverse labyrinth of wooden “forts.” All-new “safe” playground equipment in the nature of that at World’s Fair Park and Lakeshore Park, should that be under consideration, would be a very different and much less cool story. Thus a challenge for the proposed design charrette, which one hopes will include imaginative and experienced playground designers as well as the interested public.

    • I fully agree. Stone retaining walls are used all over town, including in the downtown area, and would cut into the area less.

      We have plenty of modern plastic play structures, we don’t need another. I remember how much fun all the nooks and crannies were.

    • John Waters says

      You hit the nail on the head. The City intends to level the current Fort Kid. And “rebuild” without any wooden structures.

  4. Chris Eaker says

    Nails sticking out? That qualifies Fort Kid as an adventure playground, which apparently is a thing and better for kids.

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