In remarks prior to cutting the ribbon Thursday for the newly redesigned entrance to the Augusta Quarry at Fort Dickerson Park, Mayor Madeline Rogero noted that she had 29 days left in office and “about 29 more ribbon cuttings” left to attend – “because there are so many good things that are being done.”
“When you put this much work into a project, you’ve got to come and celebrate and recognize it and recognize the people who are involved in that,” Rogero said.
Left unspoken was the acknowledgment that her successor – Mayor-elect Indya Kincannon – will (one hopes) get the honor of presiding over the ribbon cutting(s) for the final phases of improvements to the quarry space at 530 Augusta Ave.
“We’re not through,” Rogero added later in her remarks to park neighbors, outdoors lovers (emphasizing representatives of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club), elected officials, city staff and the media. “In future project phases, we plan to add restrooms, water fountains, an accessible dock and boat launch, and further safety and accessibility improvements.”
It was an inclusive “we,” indicating Rogero’s hope that the city will continue to enhance this slice of the Urban Wilderness in South Knoxville.
The event took place not at the physical entrance to the quarry area – marked by a striking horizontal sign that Rogero raved about – but on the natural-looking, well-manicured walkway adjacent to the parking lot. (Anyone who ever used the lumpy gravel lot that previously provided parking and a long walk to the quarry will appreciate the new amenities.)
Native trees, plants such as muhly grass and low, stacked-stone walls dress up both the drive and the accessible walking paths that lead to the lake and to trails.
At times, Rogero had to pause while a pair of Army helicopters noisily crisscrossed South Knoxville in a training exercise. But she made her pride in the improvements to the 91.39-acre park clear.
“We began this project last year with the goal of improving safe quarry access while improving design and landscaping for one of our city’s most beautiful natural spaces,” she said. “The final design was the result of creative, interactive public meetings hosted by city staff, Sanders Pace Architecture and PORT Urbanism.
“We appreciate our collaboration with Aslan Foundation and their funding of the entrance design and $330,000 toward this construction, and that’s just a little bit of the big bucks that they have put into our community – not just South Knoxville and the Urban Wilderness but in a lot of other really exciting initiatives as well.”
(Aslan executive director Andrea Bailey introduced Rogero, and board members Jim and Lindsay McDonough were among the attendees.)
Rogero alluded to the quarry lake’s storied history: For many years the 300-foot-deep lake was filled with treacherous debris and lured adventure seekers to leap from its cliff walls, often with tragic results. Due to safety concerns, the city prohibited swimming there.
She also injected some of her personal history.
“I’ve only lived in South Knoxville for 18 years, and when I moved here I acquired three step-kids who had grown up in South Knoxville,” she said. “And I heard very quickly from our new neighbors and from my new family that there was a swimming hole nearby but that there were signs that said ‘No Swimming Allowed.’
“What I found out is South Knoxvillians are big fans of Woody Guthrie, and you know that song that says, ‘On the one side it said, “No trespassing.” On the other side it didn’t say nothin’ – that side was made for you and me’ – so that’s the South Knoxville approach to it …”
Police officers constantly had to run off illegal swimmers. After Rogero took office in 2011 and started talking with community members about “what a beautiful asset it is right here in the heart of South Knoxville,” she worked with the city law department to allow swimming “at your own risk – still no jumping off the cliffs.”
The quarry area was a magnet for dumping and camp sites, so the city cleaned it up and posted Parks & Recreation staff from Memorial Day to Labor Day. On the high side of the park, the Chapman Highway entrance to Fort Dickerson – with its Civil War earthworks at the top – was realigned, and trails were cleaned up.
“For several years now, we’ve had Parks & Recreation staff who’ve acted as ambassadors, sharing information with visitors about the park, the trails and the quarry lake, trying to help keep things clean … but helping visitors to be safe and to enjoy this space, and we added more signage, too.
“Hopefully, … our message is on both sides of the signs – like no jumping from the cliffs.
“But what we have today is a truly enhanced experience for park users in this very special place in our community and in the Urban Wilderness. From design to construction, this $1.77 million investment has taken a very holistic approach with our residents and visitors in mind, and I am truly delighted with the results, and I hope all of you are.”
Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.