Now in its fifth decade, Ijams Nature Center continues to be a destination for Knoxville residents and is a model for cities – including Johnson City -- within the Volunteer State. Originally the home and property of Alice Ijams in the early 1900s, the city of Knoxville opened the grounds to the public in 1965.
Through the years, the park has expanded in size, environmental education opportunities and trail mileage! Today, the nature center utilizes 160 acres to display and protect this urban greenscape.
Any time of year you will find something worth seeing. Check out the visitor center and raptor enclosure. Hikers can enjoy a series of trails to create loop hikes at Ijams.
You can explore wooded hills to reach Mead’s Quarry. Visit the lake, left over after marble mining operations ceased. One path makes a big climb above the quarry, reaching a pair of overlooks. Another trail heads toward the Tennessee River, taking a side trip to Toll Creek, then explores a bluff side boardwalk over the Tennessee. See Maude Moore’s Cave; pass by a wildflower-rich hillside near Otter Island, then climb back to the nature center.
The Mead’s Quarry site was mined for pink marble from the 1890s to the 1970s and was used in buildings throughout the United States. Water naturally filled the quarry after it was dug out, leaving an attractive lake backed by tall granite bluffs.
The nearby Stanton Cemetery has marked and unmarked graves, some of them hand inscribed.
Many of those interred actually worked at Mead’s Quarry. Look for old brick, cut block and cables, all relics of when this was in operation. Take a gander into Mead’s Quarry Cave. A stream flows from this cave into Mead’s Quarry Lake. Stairs and a boardwalk allow you to peer inside the home of endangered cave species such as bats and salamanders.
Part of the park demonstrates how to turn an eyesore into an eye pleaser. Toll Creek is a good example. A trail takes you along the once-neglected urban stream, showing its unheralded beauty and role in moving water through Knoxville.
My favorite part of Ijams Nature Center is the bluff boardwalk. Here, a wooden boardwalk works along a bluff overhanging the Tennessee River. River views are extensive. You can also peer into Maude Moore’s Cave, with its two entrances, now barred.
The paved Will Skelton Greenway links Ijams Nature Center with other green spaces along the Tennessee River. The greenway itself presents walking and bicycling opportunities. Knoxville understands the value of its waterways providing urban recreation. Johnson City’s flood-prone creeks should be turned from uncontrollable underground sewers to open meandering streams, functioning as linear parks providing trail corridors and more naturally managed waterways.
To visit Ijams Nature Center: From the intersection of Cumberland Avenue and Gay Street in downtown Knoxville, travel south over the Tennessee River on the Gay Street Bridge to reach a traffic light. Keep forward at the light, now on Sevier Avenue. Travel Sevier Avenue for 0.6 mile, then stay left on Island Home Avenue as Sevier Avenue curves right over railroad tracks. Stay with Island Home Avenue for 2 miles to reach Ijams Nature Center on your left.
For more information: Knoxville Parks and Recreation – Ijams Nature Center, 2915 Island Home Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37920; (865) 215-4311; ci.knoxville.tn.us/parks