The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Tracy Haun Owens

IMG 2979Sanders Pace Architecture blended the collection of the decades-old cabins at Loghaven in South Knoxville with the existing natural environment.  Photos by Anna Lawrence/Hellbender Press

Loghaven: An award-winning natural and built environment in South Knoxville intends to get minds moving

Five years after he first saw the property that would become Loghaven Artist Residency, architect Brandon Pace was in one of the renovated cabins, listening to a performance by now-late composer Harold Budd, in town to perform at the 2019 Big Ears music festival. 

The experience brought home the full potential of a truly special place.

“That was wonderful,” Pace said of that moment. “You could see it being a place for a composer. You saw this could be something. You could see how our city comes alive in events like this.”

This spring, Knoxville-based Sanders Pace Architecture was awarded a 2021 AIA Architecture Award for the design and architectural rehabilitation work at the 90-acre Loghaven property, which is owned and managed by the Aslan Foundation.

“The role they play in supporting good design in our community cannot be overstated,” Pace said of the Aslan Foundation.

 Team member Michael Davis was awarded the 2021 AIA Young Architects Award.

On June 1, Loghaven Artist Residency opened up the application process for its second class of in-person residents, artists who work in visual, performing, literary, and interdisciplinary artistic fields.

“Save Loghaven”

Loghaven is a uniquely quirky part of Knoxville history. It began as a collection of log cabins in a heavily wooded area along Candora Road in South Knoxville.

The cabins were built as rental properties by single mom and entrepreneur Myssie Thompson in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression. Her cabins, as well as one built by neighbor John Hightower, are the heart of the property.

Generations of UTK students and professors, young professionals, and others rented the alluring cabins. But by the late 1990s, the area was sinking into disrepair, with kudzu, privet, and other invasive plants growing up around the cabins and previously cleared areas.

Friday, 02 April 2021 13:30

The battle of Flenniken Branch

2306channelThis photo was included in a TDEC report compiled March 11. It shows an excavated stream channel amid extensive grading work at 2306 Maryville Pike.  

Developer of Maryville Pike property in South Knox County faces multiple state, county citations over alleged sediment pollution

The rapid growth of South Knox County has expanded far from the perimeters of the center city and extended into more development-rich areas.

One case in point: Significant development is taking place along a once-sleepy section of Maryville Pike between Vestal and Rockford.

There is a new entrance to the expanded I.C. King Park and its dog park and playground. Just south, one of the country’s largest home builders is finishing its Sevier Meadows subdivision.

There is another development that illustrates the growing pains and legacy costs that have prompted the county and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to issue a stop-work order and levy multiple fines and citations against the current developer of the old Mayo seed warehouse site.

There are lessons to be learned from a small waterway called Flenniken Branch about the potential impacts of development on aquatic habitats and other public resources — and the ability of the government to protect those resources.

A troubled legacy

Decades of heavy industrial activity left a troubled environmental legacy near the Mount Olive community. Now a new 30-acre construction site is alleged by the state and county to be a significant source of sediment and debris that ultimately end up in the Tennessee River and its tributaries. The state also alleges the contractor buried a stream, and destroyed wetlands at another nearby property.

The Knoxville-based contractor, Kenn Davin, said he is working to correct the violations, but contends the alleged erosion violations are largely the result of runoff from nearby properties, and that the removal of trees from utility rights of way worsened the problem.

To make matters worse, one of those nearby sources of runoff, Davin said, is the so-called Witherspoon property, which was so contaminated by industrial waste the Environmental Protection Agency capped and sealed the site a decade ago.

The property in question is a 28.5-acre parcel at 2306 Maryville Pike, which abuts the Mount Olive Cemetery near Berry Road and was once the site of the D.R. Mayo Seed Co. warehouse.

Mayo sold the property in August 2019 to Florida-based CW Trust. Davin, principal at Knoxville-based contractor Design One, was designated as the site developer.

Over the course of the last 13 months, TDEC’s Department of Water Resources has issued three notices of violation for land disturbances and other impermissible activity at the Maryville Pike property.

The last notice was issued Nov. 20, 2020. Subsequent inspections in January and March noted that Davin was still out of compliance with action steps that had been required by the state.

Davin has not secured the permits required for the significant grading operations on the property, according to the county.

“They have not secured their necessary permits through our department for land disturbance,” said Knox County Stormwater Program Manager Natalie Landry.

Knox County Stormwater Management served a notice of violation for the 2306 Maryville Pike property on Feb. 9, 2021. The developer did not appeal, and a $500 civil penalty was levied.

NightUsers can charge devices and access the Internet through two solar-powered charging tables just installed at the Blount County Public Library as part of a larger SkyFi Project to bring access to technology to the community’s disenfranchised.   Courtesy EnerFusion

The Blount County Library, one of Maryville’s busiest spots, was closed to the public from mid-April to the beginning of July 2020, thanks to the pandemic. Even though the library was closed, people pulled their vehicles into the parking lot to access the library’s high-speed Wi-Fi, according to library director K.C. Williams. Some people even got out of their cars and dragged lawn chairs to the sidewalk in front of the building to access the rare public Wi-Fi. 

“We had over 11,000 hits on our Wi-Fi,” while the library was closed, Williams said. It wasn’t the first time that she and her staff realized the vital role they were playing in helping their neighbors access digital resources.

“Our county has 20 percent of the population that’s disenfranchised economically or geographically,” Williams said. “The library is the playing field equalizer.”

Searching for ways to provide more access to the community, she looked at the solar-powered charging picnic tables Maryville College installed on campus a few years ago. The tables, made of recycled plastic, use solar panels to generate and store solar electricity. Manufactured by EnerFusion, the tables cost $12,500 each. The Blount County Friends of the Library secured a grant from the Arconic Foundation for $25,000 to purchase two of them.

The two were installed at the rear of the library and dedicated at a ribbon-cutting Feb. 25. Users will be able to charge devices and access the library’s Wi-Fi any time of the day. The ribbon-cutting also kicked off the larger SkyFi Project, a plan to bring charging tables to accessible locations throughout the community. The Maryville Rotary Club is within $3,000 of meeting its goal to purchase two more tables, which it will install at the Alcoa Duck Pond. Williams said those involved in the project are looking for more locations in Blount County where the tables can be set up with secure Wi-Fi.

“What’s making this work is that it’s a partnership,” Williams said. The project partners are the three library funding bodies (Blount County and the cities of Maryville and Alcoa); the Arconic Foundation (the philanthropical wing of a large community employer); Rotary Club of Maryville; and Blount County Friends of the Library.

Maryville City Councilwoman Sarah Herron was at the ribbon-cutting to celebrate the SkyFi Project.

“Libraries are an important part of something I care deeply about, which is digital equity,” Herron said. She is a digital media specialist and communications professional, and made digital equity and digital literacy part of her candidate platform when she ran for council in 2020. She said that with so many people working remotely, attending virtual classrooms, and using telehealth services, we increasingly require technology, bandwidth, and access to people who can help us navigate tasks online.

“Not everyone has those kinds of resources,” Herron said. She commended director Williams and her staff for “working so hard to close that digital divide,” especially during the pandemic.

Herron predicts that many of the recent changes in how we use technology will persist.  

“Even as we try to get back to ‘normal,’ we’ll continue to rely on more technology,” she said. “There is such a need for people to come together to function in a digital world.”

solar on a hillsidea7ed9a9435304bf48f15e8223272129a 

Last year, Knoxville Utilities Board committed to supplying 20 percent of its electricity through solar generation by 2023, through Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Green Invest program. By 2023, KUB will provide 502 megawatts annually of new-to-the-grid solar power to its customers. This represents the equivalent of enough energy to power 83,000 homes. The $1.63 million cost will be paid by a credit provided by TVA as part of its 20-year partnership agreement with KUB.

The announcement was celebrated by solar energy advocates, including the Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association, but some environmental watchdogs maintain there are issues with the contracts that local power companies had to enter into with TVA to participate in Green Invest.

frsunflowersNot all of the Knoxville Urban Wilderness is true wilderness, of course. This monoculture field of sunflowers planted at the Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area does, however, attract lots of wildlife.  Courtesy Visit Knoxville

Spring study to quantify visitation, economic impact

Physically, the Urban Wilderness is 1,000 acres of natural and recreational land in South Knoxville. Visitors can enjoy hiking across Civil War battlefields, running on naturally surfaced trails, swimming in old quarries, and mountain biking on expertly designed tracks. But the Urban Wilderness is much more than a place. 

“It’s something special for Knoxville and defines us as a recreational community,” said city Deputy Chief of Economic and Community Development Rebekah Jane Justice. She was named the city’s first Urban Wilderness Coordinator in July 2017, and is still the city’s go-to expert on this ambitious, ongoing land-preservation and recreational project. “It’s about so many things, including building our local economy in a unique way.” 

The Urban Wilderness is, many will say, a boon to Knoxville’s economy, both in increasing tourism and for the businesses around it, including coffee shops, breweries, and restaurants. But hard numbers about its impact are still being developed. In 2015, University of Tennessee economics professor Charles Sims wrote a white paper projecting that if the Urban Wilderness grew to a national destination, it could have an economic impact of more than $29 million annually. 

Now that the Urban Wilderness is more established, actual numbers about usage are more easily captured than when Sims authored his paper. Matthew Kellogg of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club said that his club received an equipment grant from the International Mountain Bicycling Association for trail-counter devices to quantify how many people use the trails — and where and when. Currently Kellogg’s group is calibrating 11 newly placed trail counters in the Urban Wilderness. By spring, the group hopes to be collecting reliable data. 

Among the things this data will be used for is a multi-year study by University of Tennessee kinesiology and recreation professor Eugene Fitzhugh, a frequent lecturer about urban trails their impact on a community’s physical activity.