“Hey, what’s that trail beside the Powell library?” somebody asked. “My kid and I went exploring and couldn’t believe what we found.”
What they found was the Collier Preserve – a special place that one day will be a Knox County park.
The Preserve should be opened officially by year’s end, according to Carol Evans, executive director of Legacy Parks Foundation. “It’s about 80% done, and our goal is to hold a ribbon-cutting toward the end of December.”
Adjacent to the Powell Branch Library on Emory Road, the land was donated to Legacy Parks by Louise and Dr. Bob Collier. It was part of the Moore family farm, operated most recently by Bob Collier’s grandmother, Stella Moore Collier.
She farmed the land with an old mule and raised her son, Bob’s dad, after the death of her husband. Bob and his brother would stay with Granny Collier in the summer. “It was my favorite place and she was my favorite person,” said Bob. He decided to preserve the land.
Enter Carol Evans. What a challenging piece of property. But what wonderful potential.
Challenge No. 1 – Much of the land is identified as flood plain.
Challenge No. 2 – When Emory Road was widened, stormwater was piped under the road and flows directly onto the Colliers’ property. It has cut a channel toward the creek, threatening to wash out a natural spring.
Challenge No. 3 – Whether by fire or blight or Granny’s mule, most of the original trees are gone.
And there’s money – or lack of same. Legacy Parks functions with grants, volunteers and fundraisers.
Evans sounded apologetic that it’s taken two years. Ha. It could have taken 10.
The initial design called for a boardwalk. Evans got a grant through one department of state government, but another department vetoed construction of any structure that could impede water flow. So, a half-mile trail is at ground level with a permeable surface. It should be finished in early December. A flagstone path leads to the creek.
The initial idea was large boulders at the road to divert the runoff. Vetoed. Evans found a team from UT to create a demonstration project of small ponds and native plants to more naturally disperse the runoff. “It will stop and contain the flow before it gets to the spring,” said Evans.
“We won’t invite people in until after the ribbon-cutting. Until then, it’s an active worksite,” she said. Knox County will build a few parking spaces next spring, but for now visitors can park at the library.
“It’s really nice,” Bob Collier said Thursday. “It turned out far better than I could ever imagine. … Tell people to come on by and let us know what they think.”
Bob’s next project is to reforest the land with bird-friendly trees and shrubs. He’s looking for volunteers for specific areas. TVA retirees have already cleared non-native invasive species (aka weeds). They’ve also donated four wooden benches. A kiosk was made from lumber from the old barn, and the signs are ordered. A council ring of stumps makes for socially-distanced seating. And a hitching post on Beaver Creek enables kayakers to stop and enjoy the park.
Carol Evans likes to say, “Bad land makes good parks.” At Collier Preserve, Carol has captured the spirit of the Depression-era woman who came home to farm – to provide for herself and her son. I love this land and this story. Heck, I may publish it every year for those who say, “You know, I was leaving the library and I saw this trail …”
Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.