Urban Wilderness Gets a Big Donation—Right Smack Dab in the Middle of the Proposed James White Parkway Extension

In early 2010, two large parcels in South Knoxville owned by developer Pat Wood and his family were under scrutiny from city officials after a fair bit of commercial logging had cleared pieces of the ridgetops. On Tuesday, however, the Wood family donated all 100 acres to the Legacy Parks Foundation to expand the Urban Wilderness. The only trees that will be cut down from here on out will be for trails.

"This is our crown jewel. It's a crown jewel not only for Knoxville but for the entire region," said Mayor Madeline Rogero at the announcement. "It raises the value of all these independent pieces into something much greater."

Wood died in April 2012, and his family started thinking about donating the land a few months later. Daughter Kim Wood McClamroch said they had been in discussion with Legacy Parks since December about the donation.

"It's really humbling to be able to do this, and it's an honor, because there really is only so much land," McClamroch said after the press conference. "This will now be preserved for my child and for his children—it truly is a legacy."

McClamroch said her father originally bought the land with an eye toward developing apartments back when the James White Parkway was first planned. The road never materialized, but he kept holding on to the land anyway.

"I really believe this was the plan," McClamroch said. "I feel like this was destiny."

The parcels will connect the William Hastie Natural Area with the South-Doyle Middle School's outdoor classroom—that is, once trails are built. Legacy Parks executive director Carol Evans said the plans include a 1.5-mile introductory mountain-bike trail for people just learning to ride or older riders not comfortable on steeper routes. There will also be a family play area and trails up two peaks with spectacular views, one of which will be named Pappy's Point, in honor of Wood.

Yet despite the happy news, a slight pall hung over the festivities: Wood's land is directly where the Tennessee Department of Transportation still plans to route the extended Parkway, more than 30 years after it was first proposed.

In Sunday's News Sentinel, TDOT Commissioner John Schroer had a guest editorial voicing his support for the "Modified Green Alternative," a boulevard-style design for the highway that the agency announced last week. He wrote that the road is necessary because traffic problems on Chapman Highway can't be fixed without widening the road to seven lanes, and the project has more supporters than the vocal opposition thinks.

"With this modification, we feel we can further reduce impacts to homes, businesses and the Urban Wilderness," Schroer wrote.

After Tuesday's press conference, Evans said Schroer's statements were ludicrous.

"I'm still not sure they fully understand it. I think they're still not fully understanding what it is, what we have here," Evans said. "What we've said this entire time is the parkway bisects all the Urban Wilderness, not just this piece. Regardless of whether the road goes a little to the left or the right, it will destroy what we have."

Gov. Bill Haslam will likely make the final decision on the Parkway, and Urban Wilderness backers are hoping his connections to Legacy Parks will keep him on their side. Haslam is scheduled to speak at the annual Legacy Luncheon for the Parks fund-raiser on Sept. 20, and his sister-in-law Dee is on the foundation's board of advisors. Still, Evans said that up to this point, Dee Haslam has remained in the background on the controversy.

"We haven't asked her about it, and she hasn't been involved," Evans said.

Whether she eventually gets involved or not, you can be sure everyone else involved in the foundation will be heavily lobbying the governor in the months to come to make sure the Wood family's gift will keep all its trees.