By Mike Steely
Knox County residents are privileged to be surrounded by neighboring counties with interesting places and friendly people. Our county is the hub of these surrounding neighbors and there are lots of things to do and visit just outside our county lines.
Each of these neighbors have special landscapes and scenery and contribute to Knox County in many ways including commerce and employment.
One of our nearby areas, Blount County, is especially unique and important. Plans are underway to link the Knox County and Knoxville Greenways to the Alcoa-Maryville Greenways and, eventually, to extend the two-county greenway all the way to Townsend and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The initial phase of the Knox-Blount Greenway connects the Neyland Greenway to the Marine Park on Alcoa Highway. It does so by crossing the Buck Karnes Bridge above the Tennessee River and then passes through the University of Tennessee’s Cherokee Farm Innovation Center along the river until it ends at the Marine Park.
Much of the funding of that $1.65 million project comes from the state Department of Transportation with the city matching it with 20 percent.
The next step is to complete the 18-mile trail to reach the Alcoa-Maryville Greenway.
The Alcoa-Maryville Greenway
Blount County’s Springbrook Park in Alcoa and Bicentennial Park in Maryville were connected to one another in 1998 when a walking and biking trail was established. The effort to connect the two parks was funded by a $850,000 grant under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act.
That funded a three-mile extension in Alcoa and allowed Maryville to extend a path from their park to the Maryville Intermediate School. Alcoa then extended a spur through the Springbrook Corporate Center.
The Alcoa-Maryville Greenway is paved, well-lighted, and provides an opportunity for walkers, runners and bikers. The parks provide picnic tables, benches, and shelters. The nine-mile greenway starts in Alcoa near the swimming pool at Springbrook Park, passes the schools and follows Pistol Creek to Maryville.
The point where the two cities’ pathways meet is marked as “Mile Zero” and from there the greenway extends another four miles in and around Maryville, looping through each of that city’s parks except for Sandy Springs.
Bicentennial Park is the gem of the Blount County Greenway system and is an oasis in the heart of Maryville.
Dedicated in 1976, the lush park is surrounded by businesses atop the ridge and the walkway there circles the lake created by damming Pistol Creek. The walkway also links the Blount County Library, atop the hill to the north, with the greenway.
Any given weekend sees hundreds of residents using the park and the greenway, often families with children, babies in strollers, bikers, joggers, and such. The park’s waters are a favorite of water fowl and often people fish from the banks or the bridges.
The park features some unique fitness stations, a pavilion, restrooms and an amphitheater.
The greenway loops around the lake and is a favorite place for couples as well as families.
Over the next ten years, plans call for the extension of the Alcoa-Maryville Greenway to Townsend, meaning that someday a Knox County resident could walk or bike from many of their nearby parks all the way to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
It is a grand plan that seems to be on its way to completion and a path that many people in both counties are anxious to see completed.