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The days the Earth stood still (Part 2): South Knoxville’s Ijams Nature Center weathered Covid with grit, gifts and gratitude. Naturally.
Ijams posted record visitation during pandemic even as resources were challenged
(This is the second in an occasional Hellbender Press series about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the natural world. Here's the first installment about air quality improvements in the Smokies.)
Individuals and organizations can learn a lot from a pandemic.
You up your technology game. You innovate and run harder and get leaner. You realize the importance of face time (the real face time).
You learn the power of allies and those who really love you.
And in the case of Ijams Nature Center in South Knoxville, you learn just how much people need and value the natural world and the outdoors, especially in times of acute stress and uncertainty.
Ijams played host to a record number of visitors in 2020; there was no usual winter slowdown. Parking lots were full virtually every day during the height of the pandemic that claimed the lives of at least 600,000 people in the U.S. That visitation trend has continued at Ijams, with the coronavirus somewhat comfortably in the rear-view mirror.
An estimated 160,000 people visit the popular nature center annually, but there’s no exact count. Officials said the 2020 visitation substantially surpassed that number, and they plan a visitation study because a very “porous border” prevents an accurate count.
“The one great thing that has come out of Covid, is that people have recognized the importance of nature in their lives; they’ve recognized it as a place for solace, a place to get out and be safe and feel comfortable,” said Ijams Nature Center Executive Director Amber Parker.
“The sheer mass number of people coming were new to Ijams, or maybe come once or twice coming multiple times a week,” said Ijams Development Director Cindy Hassil.
“We were so excited to be this refuge for everyone,” Parker added.
The two women spoke on a sunny spring afternoon on the fetching expanse of stone terrace behind the visitors center in the shade of tulip poplars, red buds and dogwoods. Cardinals chirped and early 17-year cicadas throbbed behind a natural green curtain.