Urban Trails: Exploring Knoxville’s Hidden Third Creek Greenway

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Goats on Knoxville Third Creek Greenway
Photo via Mitchell Bunch/City of Knoxville

Located a stone’s throw from the University of Tennessee AG campus is the Third Creek Greenway. Virtually unknown to most students, this greenway provides miles of paved trail along third creek, ultimately leading to the University Gardens in view of the Tennessee River.

Currently, this space is utilized by the university’s Dendrology classes for field labs to examine and learn how to identify plant species. Also, this area has previously been subject to upper-level Agriculture student projects focused on removing the non-native and invasive species.

Nearby, one can find an expanse of land plagued by invasive kudzu. Recently, the University has employed goats to eat and keep the spread of kudzu at bay.

In addition to its contribution to the University, many families utilize this space to fish and exercise.

According to Greenways coordinator Tim Hester, many Knoxville residents use this trail as an alternative travel option to get to work in the mornings, further reducing emissions by having less cars on the road.

With a quick search of the third creek greenway online, one can quickly find a headline citing a fatal stabbing from 2015 along the greenway. When questioned about the safety concerns for students and families to use a trail where a murder occurred, Tim Hester said, “That seems to be a random event with one crazy person… Looking at Knoxville Police Department crime statistics, our parks and greenways are extremely safe”.

Mural on Knoxville Third Creek Greenway
Photo via Mitchell Bunch/City of Knoxville

A major landmark on the greenway is the massive mural adorning a concrete wall along the trail. It depicts endangered freshwater mussels and fish native to the area and is a nice splash of color among so much green.

When asked if there were any other similar projects in the works, Tim Hester responded with mention of two structural projects to improve the safety and stability of the creek for its patrons: one to be completed in the next couple months, and another planned next fall. Unfortunately, there will be no large murals or art projects along the greenway as of right now, though.

            As the distance from the Tennessee River increases, so does the amount of the noticeable trash in the creek. When questioned about this, Tim Hester stated that the city is well aware of the problem and the storm water department does clean out this area multiple times a year. He later explained that the combination of the rise of the river and the flow of the creek leads to a sort of dead zone where that trash gets trapped. The trash by observation comes from restaurants on Cumberland Avenue as well as upriver.

            The Third Creek Greenway has much to offer. Paved trails for biking and running, waterfront for fishing and goats, and different plant life for study and simple spectacle. Despite its tragic history and consistent upkeep requirements, this greenway is a useful resource for the University community and its surrounding residents.

Editor’s Note: The interview conducted between the author and Mr. Hester of Knoxville Parks and Recreation Department took place via phone on Monday, November 23rd.

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