Most of the work planned in 2023 will be part of Phase 2 of the Baker Creek project. Phase 1 included utilities, connectors roads and a bike park; Phase 2 will add a steel frame shade canopy, concrete plazas, and an Adventure Playground.
City officials seem particularly enthused by the playground, which is supposed to “incorporate natural materials into the landscape — possibly boulders, a treetop walkway or log scramble play areas,” according to the city.
The play area should be open by the end of 2023.
The origins of the project date back to 2018, when then-Mayor Madeline Rogero proposed building a $10 million gateway park and entrance to South Knoxville and the Urban Wilderness where the James White Parkway ends.
Kincannon has continued Rogero’s vision since taking office, and City Council has approved $7 million for various projects associated with the Urban Wilderness since its November meeting.
“The Urban Wilderness is increasingly becoming an economic driver,” Kincannon said.
“But more importantly, it’s a rare and stunningly beautiful gem for us to experience and enjoy. These unique amenities that we’re adding enhance the quality of life for all Knoxville residents.”
According to city officials, the Urban Wilderness has become a major outdoor adventure destination at both the regional and national levels. In 2021, nearly 304,000 people explored the wilderness trails, including an estimated 60,700 out-of-towners who were visiting Knoxville for the first time.
A report titled Valuing the Ecosystem Services Provided by Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, by the University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, found that it yields approximately $3.4 million in environmental benefits each year. The trees, for example, averted an estimated $2.2 million in environmental damage by capturing 51,000 tons of greenhouse gases.