City hires new leader for Urban Wilderness

Sandra ClarkOur Town Outdoors, South Knox

The city of Knoxville has hired a coordinator for public and private partners in new amenities planned for the Urban Wilderness.

Wes Soward started Nov. 14. He was president of the board of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club from 2016-20 and will make $95,000 in his city post. He will report to Rebekah Jane Justice, the city’s deputy economic development officer who previously held this job.

What amenities, you say? Expected for 2023 are:

  • Sevier Avenue Streetscapes Project construction to get underway.
  • New streets will be constructed off Waterfront Drive, as the South Banks apartments community continues to take shape.
  • A new Lancaster Drive sidewalk will connect families with a community school, restaurants, Urban Wilderness amenities and other neighborhood anchors.
  • $2.7 million is being invested in the Baker Creek area of the Urban Wilderness Gateway Park – this phase of park build-out adding shade structures, restrooms, a picnic area and additional parking.
  • A new adventure playground at Baker Creek Preserve.

“The Urban Wilderness is increasingly becoming an economic driver,” Mayor Kincannon said in the announcement. “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.”

Knoxville City Council has authorized Kincannon’s administration to execute a $640,000 agreement with Great Southern Recreation to design and install the new playground, which will incorporate natural materials into the landscape – possibly boulders, a treetop walkway or log scramble play areas. The new play area should be open by the end of 2023.

All combined, the city council has authorized nearly $7 million in contracts associated with the latest round of Urban Wilderness community-building and economic-development projects.

Last year, 303,680 people used Urban Wilderness trails, and one in five of those trail users was a first-time out-of-town guest. A recent report from the University of Tennessee Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy found the Urban Wilderness also delivers environmental benefits valued at $3.4 million a year. For example, Urban Wilderness trees capture 51,000 tons of greenhouse gases, averting $2.2 million in environmental damage.

Council member Tommy Smith, who represents South Knoxville, has described the build-out of the Urban Wilderness as “the realization of a vision of an entire community.”

The city of Knoxville provided information for this report. For more information click here.


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