Exciting progress on Knox County Water Trail

Mike DonilaOur Town Outdoors

A number of us met late last week to talk about the Knox County Water Trail, the 44-mile stretch along Beaver Creek that will eventually become a navigable waterway connecting five communities between Clayton Park in Halls and Melton Hill Park in Hardin Valley. The initiative is something Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs has long-championed and began planning to bring to fruition after participating in the Powell Station Flotilla several years ago.


The meeting included members of the Mayor’s Office and Knox County Commission, Knox County Parks and Recreation Department, Engineering and Public Works, the Legacy Parks Foundation, and Tip Top Tree Care, the main contractor that’s helping remove major blockages along the trail. We’ve had a two-person team – along with a part-time contractor – in the water for much of the past year, but staffing shortages in recent months have slowed the project.

So … here’s the deal for now.

The new department director, Joe Mack (who is doing an amazing job), has opted to create a four-person team. We’ll use Brad Hurst and Wendell Kirkland and newcomers Samuel Compton and Wade Anderson (both join the team Dec. 6).

“I wasn’t comfortable with a two-person team – it just wasn’t safe,” Mack said during the meeting. “But now I feel like we have the right mix.”

Hurst and Kirkland previously worked in the creek. Compton has previously worked in the water at other jobs, and Anderson is coming in from California where he’s operated “all pieces of heavy equipment” and is “a documented, certified, licensed professional.”

“The obstructions on the creek are going to require us to use heavy equipment,” Mack added.

Knox County Parks and Rec Maintenance Superintendent Jason Halliburton looking over maps of the Knox County Water Trail.

Speaking of heavy equipment, right now, we’re contracting with Tip Top Tree Care, which has handled the Level 3, 4 and 5 blockages, while our folks take care of the Level 1 and 2 blockages and some of the trees and debris along the banks before they become an issue. These levels are something we kind of came up with but to give you an idea: A Level 1 is something easily removed while a Level 5 is about the size of a house!

So far, our team and the contractor have removed a remarkable 234.86 tons from the water during the past year, and we’re just scratching the surface!

“This is going to be an ongoing thing,” Mack said. “The name of the creek is ‘Beaver Creek’ and you know what happens when you remove something a beaver built.”

Mack said he’d eventually like to create two, four-person teams and put a heavy equipment operator on each (Wendell Kirkland would be on one with Wade Anderson on the other).

So … where to start?

The crew and contractor will focus on a roughly five-mile stretch from Clinton Highway to Roy Arthur Stormwater Park off Harrell Road. It’s somewhat passable now, and the private property homeowners have worked with us to allow the equipment onto their property. We were actually concerned early on this might be an issue – and it still could be later on. Without efficient access, it could certainly take much longer.

Also, we decided that we’re going to focus on access and navigation at the same time, meaning as our folks clear out the water, we’ll be looking at put-in locations. Knox County Commissioner Larsen Jay, also a long-time champion of the project, said he’ll get with some local kayaking organizations and the Legacy Parks Foundation and present an access point plan to the county – he hopes by next summer.

Budget notes from the meeting.

So … how will we pay for this?

I talked to the county’s finance guru, Chris Caldwell. He said: “We have set aside $750,000 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for this project. This particular project falls under the Clean Water: Stormwater category. The state hasn’t finalized its plan yet, but we do anticipate a match of some sort. I think it’s safe to say we are hoping the match would equate to $750,000. We hope to get direction, including a drawdown schedule, in the next six months.”

In addition, Mayor Jacobs also has set aside $450,000 for the project. About half of that so far has gone to contractors, equipment and supplies, hauling off debris, and equipment repairs. As Joe Mack noted, it’s an ongoing project, but it is possible to clear much of the 44-miles by 2025-26. Before that, though, many major stretches will be – and are – open for the public! So go out and enjoy!

For more information about the Knox County Water Trail, go here.

Mike Donila is communications director for Knox County government.

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