Water Feature, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, September 2023
(Today’s article is by recurring guest writer Luke Frazier, a relatively new Knoxville resident who continues to explore the city.)
I’ve been walking all over downtown Knoxville for a year now, investigating at the speed of wander. I’ve checked out the alleys and thoroughfares, dead ends and pass-thrus, all kinds of benches, café seating, and little areas like St. John’s Cathedral prayer garden. I’ve been lucky enough to find spots that resonate, offering a chance to embrace a pace of life that resists busyness as an American birthright. My walks can be random when I don’t have to be anywhere, and I set my internal GPS for meander-land.
At times I’ll use my walking app because I like to track distance, and putting in five miles feels like an accomplishment. Walking helps my head and heart, and lifts my spirit. There is a spiritual element to walking if you care to explore it, and I appreciate the Buddhist notion of “arriving with every step.” I try and remind myself to stay where my feet are and just walk. Sometimes my chattering brain says good luck with that.
I’ve done a few treks over the years, recently a 60+ mile walk around the perimeter of Martha’s Vineyard Island over four days (you can read about it HERE), and the Atlantic was the star of that show. In Knoxville there is no ocean, but the Tennessee River is bold and beautiful. I find myself walking along the river on the Neyland and James White Greenways (JWG) quite a bit, you can take it as far east as the Gov. Ned McWherter Park. There is also plenty of other water to find flowing around town, both natural and man-generated variety. And isn’t there is always something rewarding about finding water in motion?
What follows is a watery exploration path through downtown, probably about 1.5 miles total with one steep hill up Walnut St. It starts with a splash at the northern tip of World’s Fair Park (WFP).
Seeing kids enjoying the soaking extravaganza that is the Festival Lawn Splash Pads in WFP is always a kick. On busy days it’s a crowded oasis, with many adults longingly gazing from afar and a few joining in. Close-by bathrooms and vending machines add a festival dimension. Among the water-logged screaming children there is usually at least one kid fixated on trying (and failing) to stop one of the waterspouts from blasting.
Further south in the park is the cascading water feature at the base of the Sunsphere, adjacent to The Maker Exchange. It forms a nice crescent with plenty of liquid cacophony. You can also take in the soaring painted birds under the bridge above the pool.
The fountain at the south end provides inspired views in both directions. Looking north the jets take aim at the Sunsphere and to the southeast stand in rhythm with the spires of Church St. United Methodist.
Following the Second Creek Greenway out of WFP you’ll enjoy a couple of motion moments in Second Creek itself. There’s a little spur path across the creek and a bench available.
Crossing Neyland Parkway, join Neyland Greenway at the river and head east. The Tennessee River will be doing its thing, and there are some great reflective quotes inscribed in stone and mounted along the path. When you get to Volunteer Landing, you’ll be greeted by two man-made fountains adding to a sculpted plaza area. The best thing to do on a hot day is ignore the signs and stick your feet in one of them.
Continuing east past Calhoun’s and a parking lot, you’ll be on a bridge over First Creek. Look north over the railroad tracks for a pleasantly symmetrical waterfall. From there you can backtrack to Volunteer Landing and head up to the pedestrian bridge over Neyland Drive. Once on Walnut Street it’s a steep climb to Main St., where you can take a right and head for the Truist Building at the corner of Gay and Main.
The building plaza there has a nicely-designed chunky concrete fountain with and a series of cascading pools down to a shady area and benches. My 7 lb. Pomeranian has been known to swim across the bottom pool and come out looking pathetic but refreshed. Water features have cross species appeal.
Walking north on Gay St. will take you to Krutch Park and the penultimate stop on this water tour. The park entrance off Gay is bordered with a short stretch of fountain jets with a pattern I can’t begin to describe. Heading west into Krutch-proper you cross an alley and step into a moment. A magic little spot with a bridge over a dog-legged pond. A murmur of water from a small descent over a few rocks. But if you listen closely, and close your eyes, well, who knows the places you might go.
At the north end of Krutch, right up at Union St., is a proud waterfall. It’s well-nestled and shady on one side, and offers an inviting visit along the path. It’s one of the first things I remember really liking about Knoxville when we visited before moving here. It has an elegance and charm of a certain kind that feels complete in and of itself.
Finally, another visit to the bubbles, this time right on Market Square. Another great spot to watch kids delight in the force of water. Squeals, shrieks, and splatters — damn it’s good to get wet!
The sight and sound (let alone feel) of moving water impacts some fundamental aspect of our water-filled selves, the part where Spirit meets the bone. It fills ears with caresses, delights eyes with sparkles and glimmers, encompasses skin with fullness, quenches thirsts known and imagined. It’s alive, and it adds up to more than the sum of its H2O molecules.