Connecting Everyone to the Outdoors

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Sharp's Ridge Playspace and Adaptive Trails

In 2017, 42-acres of forested land on the north side of Sharp’s ridge was donated to Legacy Parks by the Dick family. The property, located adjacent to the Sharp’s Ridge Veterans Memorial Park and nestled between the Lincoln Park and Fountain City neighborhoods off North Broadway, provided a potential opportunity to expand a city park and provide a recreational connection to residents on the north side.

At the time of the donation, the Sharp’s Ridge Veterans Memorial Park had transformed into a hiking and biking destination with 4.7-miles of trails on the property.

With input from the community and help from the East Tennessee Community Design Center and Ross/Fowler, a design was created that included:

  • New multi-use trails to accommodate hiking and biking and suitable for kids, families and strollers
  • A kids bike skill area
  • A new playground

In 2019, Legacy Parks was awarded a $150,000 grant from the Trinity Health Foundation of East Tennessee which funded the research, planning and construction of the trails and playspace. Additional funding came from partners including a $4,000 grant from Barge Design Solutions and the funding of six benches by the TVA Retirees Association.

Around the same time as the project was taking shape, we were introduced to Carly Pearson, an incredible athlete and adventure lover who had an accident that left her wheelchair bound. Hearing Carly’s story and realizing the need for access into the woods for those requiring mobility devices, we began creating Knoxville’s first adaptive trail on the Sharp’s Ridge property. Partnering directly with Carly and trail builder Randy Conner of Contour Trail Design, we created a trail designed specifically for off-road wheelchairs and adaptive mountain bikes. We quickly discovered that there are no official guidelines for how to build an adaptive trail, so the process involved many visits with Carly to design and test the trail. What we learned:

  • Width – a trail to accommodate the wider adaptive bikes needs to be at least 36″ wide, as opposed to common 18-24″ trails.
  • Hills – rolling hills are better for the adaptive bikes that sit closer to the ground and do not get as much momentum as standard bikes.
  • Pull-offs – so users can choose to turn around if they don’t feel comfortable or if there’s something keeping them from moving forward on the trail.
  • Mud – Mother Nature presented us this hurdle. Where a mountain bike would roll right through, a lower riding hand cycle or off-road wheelchair tends to bog down so extra care was taken to ensure appropriate drainage and harden the trails.

“As a wildland firefighter, my home was in the woods. After an injury completely changed my life 18 years ago, not being able to get out in nature left me with a huge void. Adaptive access to our trails provides me the opportunit to do something different. To be included. To get off the pavement and into nature. It gives me freedom.”

– Carly Pearson

We cut the ribbon to open the Sharp’s Ridge Playspace and Adaptive Trails in 2020, creating the first all-access trail in our region designed specifically to accommodate users with disabilities. A new playground, bike skills area and two multi-use trails connect to the existing city park at the top of the ridge.

We believe everyone should be able to experience the benefits of being in nature and enjoy recreational opportunities in the woods.

The two-mile natural surface Independence Trail begins at the top of the ridge and winds down to the base where it intersects with the North Ridge Loop Trail. The Independence Trail is moderately technical trail for adaptive or standard mountain bike users with experience who want a challenging ride. The North Ridge loop is relatively flat and designed for new users for an easy stroll through the woods. This trail can accommodate standard wheelchairs, strollers or bikes and is all-season, accessible, soft surface trail.

Through a $20,000 grant from the Siddiqi Foundation, Legacy Parks purchased two adaptive mountain bikes and two adaptive wheelchairs to use on the trails. Catalyst Sports manages the rental of the chairs and bikes and provides programming for adaptive sports recreation.

Having both the properly-designed trails and the equipment were important to making the woods as accessible to everyone as possible.

The mountain bikes are suited for the experienced athlete and the wheelchairs can be self-powered or can be pushed like a traditional wheelchair to take a friend or family member who has limited mobility on a walk in the woods when they might not be able to do so.

In 2021, Legacy Parks added another section of the Lincoln Trail to connect the two sides of the ridge. The 1.1-mile adaptive trail bends around the west side of the ridge to connect the adaptive trails – Independence and the North Loop Trail on the north side with the existing 4.7 miles of multi-use trails on the south side. This trail addition provides direct access from the neighborhoods on the north side to the city park, where there was previously no entry point.

Increasing access to these trails encourages community members of all ages and abilities to come together to play, socialize, participate in physical activity and connect with nature.

This project resulted in a commitment from the City of Knoxville and Knox County to create accessible trails in every quadrant of our city and county. Since, Legacy Parks has continued working on adaptive access, adding adaptive trails have been created in west Knoxville at Concord Park, in south Knoxville at the Dogwood Community Trails and adaptive boat launches at Powell High Landing and plans for Cruze Landing on the French Broad River.

Sharp’s Ridge Playspace and Adaptive Trails were conveyed to the City of Knoxville as a public park.

Project Partners 

Trinity Health Foundation, Barge Design Solutions, Siddiqi Foundation, City of Knoxville, East Tennessee Community Design Center, TVA Retirees Association

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