By Adam Sullivan
Bikers and hikers no longer have to shuttle to Norris Dam State Park or the Smokies to get the experience of a lifetime.
Local leaders and hundreds of volunteers from the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club (AMBC) have worked tirelessly over the past five years to create over 35 miles of trails located just minutes from downtown. On Tuesday, August 14, a ribbon cutting iced the cake on what has been an exciting and eventful year for the “Urban Wilderness.” Over 200 spectators and local leaders assembled on View Park Drive in South Knoxville at an area where the loop weaves through the neighborhood.
“What has been done here is really a representation of dreams becoming reality, and just as the connection exists in South Knoxville, between Ijams, Forks of the River, Hastie and Marie Myers, there’s no reason this can’t set the foundation for the future of greenways leading to the Smokies, Townsend, or Oak Ridge,” said former mayor and former ambassador to Poland, Victor Ashe.
The Urban Wilderness, as it has been designated by theLegacy Parks Foundation and the AMBC, is a collection of trails that connect Mead’s Quarry Nature Area, Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area, private land easements, Hastie Park, and Marie Myers Park, all in South Knoxville. The official loop makes up 11 miles of trails and allows recreationists experience each of the local parks.
The loop has recently been signed with trail names andratings for almost the entire 35 miles. Several pavilions equipped with maps have been installed throughout entrances to the Urban Wilderness.
“In the last five years, outside of Ijams, this and the waterfront are the two biggest things to impact South Knoxville. This has come to fruition very quickly and is a nucleus for all kinds of activity along the way,” said Vice Mayor and South Knoxville City Councilman Nick Pavlis.
The Legacy Parks Foundation eventually hopes to connect the trails at the Urban Wilderness to the Fork Dickerson area through greenways and other easements. The Foundation continues to purchase easements and properties needed to continue connections between the parks in South Knoxville.
The AMBC routinely cuts new trails and grooms existingtrails throughout the year. However, activity usually dwindles during the summer, as most volunteers are avid riders. In December 2011, workers were able to cut a few miles of trails in just 8 hours using upwards of 100 volunteers. Since December, AMBC leaders Brian Hann and Matthew Kellogg have been using mechanical equipment to dig new trails through Mead’s Quarry and Marie Myers Park.
“We built 20 feet of bridge and we were swamped, trudging around in mud up to our knees,” said Mark Rodriguez, secretary of the AMBC. “With Concord Park out west, we also do a lot of maintenance out there. We built kiosks earlier this year and a giant wood berm in a matter of a few hours.”
Outdoors enthusiasts can find maps at legacyparks.org and volunteers can join the AMBC at ambc-sorba.org. The AMBC holds weekly group rides on Tuesday evenings at 6:00 p.m. at the Mead’s Quarry parking lot.