Friday, July 28, 2017

Ijams Nature Center (Free!)

Ijams Nature Center

This week, we decided to explore the Ijams (rhymes with "times") Nature Center. The Ijams family, avid birders and nature lovers, bought 20 acres on the undeveloped side of the river (downtown Knoxville is on the other side) in 1910. Back then, this wasn't quite as rustic as it sounds - the family was right next door to a couple of quarries, so they probably heard blasting every day!  

To honor the family's legacy, the city turned the property into a park in the 60s. Over the years, the city kept adding on to the park - today it's 275 acres of well-marked nature trails.

The park is divided into two sections. The first section is the original park; which has the visitor center, a trail that is handicap accessible, and Navitat.  The second section is Mead's Quarry Lake. There is a parking lot at the lake, along with bathrooms, and a small swimming hole. 

Access to the park is free, but you will have to pay if you want to rent a canoe or take the Navitat zipline adventure.

We packed a picnic, parked at the lake, and walked down Imerys trail.
The trail head was right next to the old limestone ovens. The Ross Marble Quarry orginally cut and sold "marble", a crystalline limestone. The marble for the National Art Institute came from this quarry. 

After the Great Depression, the quarry switched to cooking the limestone. The resulting lime would be shipped out on rail cars. 
The trail winds through a field of wildflowers,
curves into a green forest, 
and then begins to wind around massive boulders.
It's hard to believe this used to be an abandoned quarry, and an illegal dump, just 20 years ago.

Hayworth Hollow is cool and shady,
full of massive jumbles of rock,
and thick with moss and ferns. 
We take a small break, and then back track to the other trail.
 We cross over the rock bridge,
 and pick our way down stone steps.
A little ways down the hill, we come to the Keyhole.
 The Keyhole was created in the 1920s, so the workers could access either side of the quarry. There was a crane on either side of the rock bridge, which were used to move the massive blocks.
We make our way through the tunnel, 
and back into sunlight and another trail. 

Instead of continuing on, we decide to stop and finish our picnic. After three hours of walking and exploring, we're hungry!
Know Before You Go: We visited Ijams on a weekday. The road to the lake is a short but fun ride - at least on a motorcycle. The road is narrow and there is no shoulder.  

We arrived before 9am, and found there was plenty of parking and few people on the trails. By the time we headed back at noon, Meade's Quarry Lake was pretty crowded and parking was tight. We checked and the main section of Ijams was even more packed. We would recommend going early and skipping this park on a weekend!


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