In the waning twilight of the Ashe administration, the former mayor was buying park land without always having clear plans about how to proceed with it.
One of his purchases, around 2003, was a 75-acre plot off Redbud Drive in South Knoxville, a wooded tract once planned for suburban development during the heady days of the 1982 World’s Fair, and equipped with sewers, but abandoned after development of the rocky, steep landscape came to seem less feasible.
“I’m glad he jumped on it,” says Joe Walsh, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, remarking on the rarity of an undeveloped area that size in the city. It’s hardly two miles southeast of downtown. “We called it a natural area; the decision not to make it a ‘park’ came back to terrain. It’s certainly not going to be getting any soccer fields.”
In the years since, it had attracted mainly weeds and four-wheeling rowdies. At one time, the neighbors despaired that anything would happen with the plot. The city did eventually install some barriers to prevent damaging use of the land, as well as some preliminary landscaping and gravel trails.
It has become known as William Hastie Natural Area. Hastie was America’s first black federal appeals-court judge, ca. 1937, and also for a time governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He spent part of his youth in South Knoxville.
Ann Strange, president of the Lake Forest Neighborhood Association, has taken a special interest in the plot. “It’s mostly woods and steep ridges, good for walking or mountain biking,” she says. “It has a cave, and trout lilies in the spring. It has a real diversity of plant life, because it hasn’t been messed with for years.”
Walsh expects it to remain a rugged place, for hiking trails and perhaps off-road bicycling. The greenways people have also expressed an interest in it; it’s not far from the Mead’s Quarry/Ijams area, which is already well-served by greenways.
One big problem for the prospective park is where to park. The residents of Redbud don’t want a parking lot beside their homes; there are hopes that the city can work something out by providing the park access via Old Sevierville Pike, via Margaret.
“Right now the only way to get to it is to walk. That’s great for the people who live adjacent to it, but people coming in from West Knoxville are going to have to have a place to put their cars.” The bill for a parking lot and other improvements may be around $50-60,000; Walsh says he’s going to recommend it for the city’s ’08-’09 budget.