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Knoxville's Urban Wilderness

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Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, a recreational, cultural, and historic preservation initiative launched by Legacy Parks Foundation in 2008, incorporates over 1,000 forested acres along downtown’s south waterfront. It is a spectacular outdoor adventure area where you can hike, bike, climb, paddle or just wander in the woods – all within the heart of the city.

Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness is composed of multiple recreational areas connected by trails that offer a variety of outdoor activities. Over 60 miles of trails and greenways connect a beautiful nature center, pristine lakes, historic sites, dramatic quarries, adventure playgrounds, city parks and a 500-acre wildlife area.

The 104 acres of abandoned quarry, Ross Marble Quarry, was the first  property donated to Legacy Parks early in the foundation’s beginning in 2007. It has been transformed into a robust system of multi-use trails and is now a beautiful addition to Ijams Nature Center. This property made it possible to create trail connections to Forks of the River, Helix Trails, William Hastie Natural Area and Marie Myers Park.

In 2009, Legacy Parks Foundation acquired the River Bluff Property, a former civil war battle site and the last un-conserved viewshed along Knoxville’s south waterfront. Legacy Parks raised the funds needed to purchase the property and permanently conserved the property as a natural area.

In 2010, Legacy Parks received funding from the City of Knoxville for land acquisitions that made the South Loop trail system possible. The 30 miles of trail opened in 2012 and became a catalyst for community awareness of Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. That same year, the Foundation formed a partnership with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to create public access to Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area for recreational use, adding 500 acres to the budding Urban Wilderness.

Starting in 2013, Legacy Parks transformed 100 acres of land donated to Legacy Parks by the Wood Family into an outdoor adventure destination for adventurers of all ages and levels of experience. The project was completed in 2016 and is now known as Baker Creek Preserve. Legacy Parks completed the South Doyle Outdoor Classroom, Baker Creek Play Forest, and Cherokee Trail connecting the middle school to Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness during that same time. Since 2008, Legacy Parks has completed 12 projects within the footprint of Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. It now serves as a major destination for outdoor recreation and an incredible economic benefit to the community. In 2023, the Baker School at the University of Tennessee estimated that Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness generates $24.9 million annual benefit for Knox County’s economy.

“The Urban Wilderness helped define Knoxville as an outdoor town because it is the perfect juxtaposition. You can be in the woods and then downtown within 10 minutes.” – Carol Evans

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