By Mike Steely
You can’t get there from here.
Yep. Tennessee’s newest state park, Seven Islands State Birding Park, is located in Knox County but you’ve got to go through Sevier County to get to the main part of the park. Yet, if you like hiking, kayaking, or bird watching, it’s worth a drive.
Back in 2002, thanks to the efforts of the Seven Islands Foundation, the 425-acre park on Kelly Bend was given to Knox County’s Parks and Recreation Department. In 2013 the state took over and the park is open and still under development. Legacy Parks Foundations managed the park before the state took it over. The park became the 58th state park and the newest in that system.
The easiest way to reach the park is to take Interstate 40 to Midway Road, turn right, and turn left on Maples Road. At the intersection of Kodak Road turn right and then left, at Bethel United Methodist Church, and follow Kelly Lane to the park.
When you get there you may or may not encounter a barricade but there’s a large gravel parking lot there and the entrance to the hiking trails. The huge barn at the parking lot has informational signage.
The park extends to the tip of the peninsula and actually crosses the French Broad River to part of the islands there and into the western bank.
Officially the “Seven Islands State Birding Park,” the site is the state’s first so-designated park and has more than 180 species of birds. It has more than 8 miles of natural trails and a paved road all the way to the river for walking or bike riding. It is a research facility that’s ideal for schools and clubs and also for fishing, and canoe and kayak enthusiasts. It has been adopted by the University of Tennessee and the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. The Society conducts bird banding there.
Visiting there is dawn to dusk and you can contact the park at 407-8335 or find them online at the Tennessee State Parks site or on Facebook.