At 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, Mayor Madeline Rogero is scheduled to be at the ribbon cutting for the Suttree Landing Park Pavilion and Kayak Launch.
Rogero is pretty familiar with the 8.25-acre park in South Knoxville at 1001 Waterfront Drive. She was there for the groundbreaking event on July 7, 2015, and for the ribbon cutting when it opened in November 2016; it was the city’s first new park in 12 years. She held her State of the City address at the park in April 2017.
But as gratifying as it is to have the city mayor take an interest in public parks, it’s even more encouraging to see parks grow from small ideas to big assets.
On Saturday, Aug. 17, Suttree Landing Park will be host to the second annual Second Bell Music Fest. From noon to 10 p.m., bands will perform on two alternating stages, showcasing both local and regional talent. A week later, on Aug. 24, the South Knoxville Neighborhood & Business Coalition will hold a SoKno Summer Social, welcoming neighbors and friends from all over the city for a relaxed picnic at the park.
People come to Suttree Landing to walk, ride bikes, let their children enjoy the play area or simply sit on a bench and watch the Tennessee River flow by. For some, it has become a regular retreat; to others it’s still unheard of.
Dawn Michelle Foster, the city’s director of redevelopment, remembers when the land was nothing but “industrial sites that were left vacant and blighted.”
According to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation website, from the 1940s to 2004, the area had been home to a bulk oil storage facility, a textile-dyeing operation and an engine-parts manufacturer. It had just been sitting there when, in 2009, the city received a $400,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency that it was able to use to examine the environmental status of the land along the waterfront. The city made an agreement with TDEC’s Division of Remediation in 2010 and began the process of remediating the land so it could be safely used as a park.
“Part of the redevelopment initiative was to provide a way to put that back into being used and also to connect folks – residents, visitors – closer to the Tennessee River,” says Foster.
It was a daunting project, but it was worth it, Foster and South Knoxville residents say. Outside groups agree; the park has won awards for its beauty and creative overhaul of a once-toxic brownfield.
Suttree Landing Park falls within the Old Sevier neighborhood, and Old Sevier Community Group president Monte Stanley remembers the empty fuel-storage tanks and the “unsightly, neglected area.”
“We’re really happy to have such a beautiful park in our neighborhood,” says Stanley. “There are festivals, people walk their dogs, children play in the playground area. It’s nice to have people come into the neighborhood.
“It complements other things going on in South Knoxville like the Urban Wilderness and Ijams Nature Center,” says Stanley. He points out that OSCG member John Thomas suggested the name Suttree, after the eponymous character in the first novel by Cormac McCarthy, who moved to Knoxville with his family as a preschooler in the 1930s and lived here for many years.
Stanley and OSCG members like Jenny Arthur have volunteered countless hours to landscape and beautify Old Sevier.
“The Old Sevier neighborhood is so pleased that the city put in native plantings to complement our butterfly habitat network,” says Arthur. The park’s clusters of plants and grasses look different from other, typically manicured city parks.
“A lot of people don’t understand them,” says Arthur. “They don’t understand that they’re supposed to be like that. They think that the city’s not maintaining them, but they’re supposed to be natural and butterfly-friendly. We love it.”