As the Knox Education Foundation’s school lead at Dogwood Elementary in South Knoxville, Kara Strouse knows “everything” that’s going on around the school.
Even so, she was taken by surprise Thursday morning when she was presented with a major award for the school’s Mac Post Arboretum.
Usually a serene and quiet setting, the arboretum rang with cheers and hollers as a stunned but beaming (under a mask) Strouse accepted the 2020 Arboretum of the Year Award from Tennessee Urban Forestry Council representative Diane Warwick, state coordinator for the Tennessee Urban & Community Forestry Program and ex officio member of TUFC.
“We give out awards every year recognizing people and entities throughout the state who’ve done an excellent job with urban and community forestry work and education,” said Warwick. Trees Knoxville nominated the arboretum and Strouse for the award.
The arboretum is “a wonderful educational tool that we can use, not only with children but with adults, and it’s also a beautiful place to just come and get your Zen,” said Warwick. “This year has been horrible on all of us, so it’s really important that we get outside and we just sit under a tree and just listen to the birds.”
Strouse was instrumental in obtaining approval for the arboretum’s accreditation through the ArbNet program in May 2020.
Named in honor of Mac Post, Tennessee chapter chair of the Sierra Club, the arboretum is the result of years of effort to turn the wooded area behind the school into a school and community asset. About 20 years ago, an AmeriCorps team developed a trail and built an observation deck and a small bridge over an erratic tributary to Baker Creek. Monte Stanley of nearby Stanley’s Greenhouse kept watch as the area became neglected, and he planted several trees and wildflowers in the area, according to Post.
About five years ago, the Dogwood Outdoor Coalition was launched to make the woods in the school’s backyard a mecca for student learning. Ariel Allen of the coalition presented plans at the January 2016 Knoxville SOUP event at Vestal United Methodist Church and ended up winning the SOUP pot.
Strouse and her predecessor, Adam Fritts, coordinated grants and recruited workers as community and church groups, Boy Scouts and Appalachian Mountain Bike Club members volunteered, clearing out invasive species and overgrowth and building trail. Post started spending a few hours at a time – more than 100 overall – at the Dogwood site and identified more than 50 species of trees, which are now marked with signs.
“It’s really been a collaborative effort,” said Dogwood principal Lana Shelton-Lowe, who noted that funds came from Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and various grants. “Every time I come back here, I’m so proud.”
The trail connects to Stanley Lippencott Ridge Park to the north and Cecil Webb Recreation Center to the east. Post said it will eventually be on a greenway connected to Baker Creek and accessible from the new Urban Wilderness Gateway Park.
Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.