The sound of river traffic made by the churning barges fills the otherwise quiet space between the sunflower rows. Then, the softness of the wind and the flight and call of some small bird. It feels strange to know that if there were no trees lining the river, you'd be able to see downtown on the other side.
Down here in the Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area, along where the Holston and French Broad Rivers combine to make the mighty Tennessee, you'd hardly be aware that you were within the city limits of a major metropolitan area. It's as if they've carved out another world here, in what locals call Knoxville's Urban Wilderness.
And that's exactly what it is - a series of nature preserves, wildlife management areas, city parts and nature centers linked by a 42-mile greenway.
Baker Creek Preserve is Knoxville's newest addition to the Urban Wilderness system. At the time of this publication, parts of this 100-acre preserve are still under construction, including its parking area and trailhead. To locate it, find the intersection of Cruze and Taylor Roads. There, on the far south wing of the Sevier Heights Baptist Church's parking lot, is the parking area and trailhead. There are five mixed-use trails - open to both hikers and mountain bikers - and three mountain bike-only trails. Note that the mountain bike-only trails have been rated for experienced riders only, containing a mixture of unpredictable or unavoidable obstacles, uneven and loose rock, very steep grades of up to 20 percent or so and technical features such as banked turns and ramps of 48 inches or higher.
But for those taking a leisurely hike - or ride - the mixed use Red Bud Crest Trail is a pleasant route that will lead you from the Baker Creek Preserve, over the brand new Red Bud Bridge and into Marie Myers Park, where you "T" into the 42-mile greenway.
From there, take the greenway north toward the river and cross into the world-class Ijams Nature Center , by way of the Ross Marble Quarry. At Ijams, you have an incredible array of outdoors options, including rock climbing, paddling, hiking, biking and the Navitat canopy zip line adventure park.
From Ijams, the trail crosses into the massive Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area. It is a truly massive preserve, renowned for its sunflower fields.
You could easily spend half a day just strolling these grounds along the field roads and riverside greenway. Then, via Lost Chromosome Trail, you cross through private land easement granted to the city and across this landscape into the Hastie Natural Area, which links to Marie Myers Park and thus completes the loop trail.