On a sunny October afternoon, Brian Hann and his neighbor Matthew Kellogg are hanging out with their dogs in the woods behind their South Knoxville farmsteads. But the two men aren't here for a leisurely hike. They're working—building bridges, clearing brush—doing everything necessary to create a bikeable, hikeable trail.
This trail is one of the last pieces in a loop that stretches from Ijams Nature Center down through the Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area over to William Hastie Natural Area and up to Ross Marble Quarry and Mead's Quarry. All in all, the South Loop Trail is over 30 miles, including several offshoot trails.
Hann is the president of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, and he's spearheaded the trail-building initiative over the past couple of years. He says the Legacy Park Foundation has finally gotten the land-use easements for the last part of the trail, which will connect William Hastie to Ross Marble. When those trails are done early next year, he says South Knoxville will become a total biking paradise.
Of course, not everyone has the agility to mountain bike, so Hann is also working to make the entire trail system friendly for hikers, by improving signage and reworking some of the older narrower bike trails to be more user-friendly. "The main loop will be just a little bit more difficult than a normal greenway," Hann explains.
Carol Evans, the executive director of the Legacy Park Foundation, says this loop is the first part of a trail system that will eventually connect to the greenway near Alcoa Highway. "So conceivably you could ride from Ijams to Maryville," she says.
The AMBC has already completed a short trail from Fort Dickerson to Vestal, part of an eventual loop that will connect all the South Knox battlefield sites. But an increase in the number of sites available for recreational use isn't Evans' only goal.
"It will improve property values," she says. "Building trails is a simple and cost-effective way to make this more of a destination … and I think more and more people have gotten involved because they see the bigger picture."
Indeed, the project has received sizeable donations from the city of Knoxville, the Knoxville Greenway Coalition, the Knoxville Track Club, and former Mayor Victor Ashe, along with a $56,000 federal grant. And Hann says he knows several people, including Kellogg, who have moved to South Knoxville in the past two years specifically so they can have a trail in their backyard.
"I know of over a million dollars of property in the past two years that people have bought to be close to the greenway," Hann says. "It's an economic development issue."
Kelley Segars, the head of the Knoxville Regional Bicycle Program, says she's been impressed with all the work the AMBC volunteers do. (Almost the entire trail system has been built by Hann and other AMBC volunteers.)
"I wish we could use volunteers to build bike lanes," Segars quips.
But her point is a salient one—bike lanes in South Knoxville are few and far between.
"I do hope more and more people will be able to use the multiuse trails for commuting, since South Knoxville is tough to commute from," Segars adds.
Whether you bike or hike or not, you can still support AMBC's efforts on Friday simply by watching movies and drinking beer, when New Belgium Brewing brings its "Clips of Faith" tour to World Fair Park. It's free to show up and watch the short films (some about cycling and some not), but the more you spend on beer, the more money AMBC will receive.