Johnson University, Legacy Parks Foundation to create public trail system, river access

KNOXVILLE – Johnson University hosted the 2019 Legacy Parks Luncheon on September 27, from 11:30 to 1 p.m. David McLain, a National Geographic photographer and a member of the Blue Zone exploration team, was the featured speaker of the event organized by the Legacy Parks Foundation.

Carol Evans, Legacy Parks’ Executive Director speaking at the 2019 Legacy Parks Luncheon.

At the luncheon, Carol Evans, Legacy Parks’ executive director, revealed a new plan, which includes the university, to create more recreational outdoor areas for the Knoxville area.

“So today we are pleased to announce two incredible gifts to our community from Johnson University,” Evans said. “Over the coming year, the university will begin a feasibility study, looking at the creation to create public access to the French Broad River from this very site.”

The event was held down beside the part of the French Broad River that Johnson owns. Evans said that the third oldest river in the world and the river that is tied to much of Knoxville’s history and growth should be used.

“This new access point will include a kayak launch and parking, and increase access to the river, and offer recreational opportunities where there are none,” Evans said. “This is a gap of the river where there is no public access and it is much needed for us to be able to enjoy this river.”

Plans for public trail expansion on Johnson’s campus were announced.

“In addition to that incredible gift, Johnson is considering the creation of up to eight miles of multi-use trails on that ridge just behind where you parked when you came in to the university,” Evans said. “This new trail system and river access will create a destination for health and fitness here in south Knoxville, where there is currently not this kind of access.”

The trails would be created in the area behind the Athletic and Recreation Complex.

Tommy Smith, Johnson University’s President, said the luncheon was planned first. Then Evans, who is also a member of the Greater Knoxville Advisory Board for Johnson University, discussed options with the board for creating use of the ground the university owns.

“We don’t want to be Knox County’s best kept secret, so the secret is out,” Smith said. “Johnson University’s here.”

Matt Johnson
Matt Johnson, Director of Community Engagement at Johnson.

Matt Johnson, the Director of Community Engagement at Johnson, said the project would help create more of an outdoor recreational area for not only the public, but students as well. Later on, a degree program centered in outdoor recreational sports could be a possibility.

Although the university is not sure about the set plans for the program until after a feasibility study takes place, he said they’re taking into consideration plans for security as well.

“When -if- this happens, we will create opportunities to get on campus, opportunities to have access, without disturbing campus as much as possible,” he said.

David McLain, speaker at the 2019
Legacy Parks Luncheon.

Speaker David McLain addressed the attendees on the connection between nature and health, providing information on why recreational outdoor areas are so important.

“I think that outdoor recreation…is really connected to the Blue Zones, in the sense that it provides people an opportunity to be healthy, to move naturally, and to spend time with people they love, and to reduce stress, as well,” McLain said. “Stress and loneliness are big killers, and I think spending time in nature with friends is the answer to that.” 

Legacy Parks Foundation is a nonprofit organization in East Tennessee dedicated to creating opportunities for the community to enjoy the land and resources the area has to offer. They do this through creating trails, park expansions, and river accesses. Legacy Parks has raised over six million dollars for parks and open spaces, created over 600 acres of parkland in Knox County, and contributed to the conservation of 1,000 acres of farmland and forests.

Contributed to by Mina Blaylock and Jenna Stahlman

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