Shopper Blog: New dig launches second phase of Baker Creek Preserve
New dig launches second phase of Baker Creek Preserve
Ali James, Shopper News
Despite the bitterly cold day, mountain bikers were hitting the trails, zipping around the pump tracks or practicing skills and jumps at Baker Creek Preserve. Nearby, city officials, parks and recreation staffers, collaborators and stakeholders were gathering to ceremoniously shovel some dirt to signal the start of the second, and perhaps final phase, of the Baker Creek Preserve on Dec. 19.
This means work will finally start on the much anticipated restrooms, an Adventure Playground featuring natural materials such as boulders, a treetop walkway or log scramble play areas (the original one was torn out more than three years ago) and a large pavilion to provide shade and space for picnic tables.
Originally, work on this second phase was estimated to begin in the fall of 2020.
The first phase – featuring two asphalt pump tracks, one for advanced riders, the other for beginners; five jump and skill lines of varying difficulty levels – was completed in August 2020.
Next, attention shifted to the start of the $10 million Urban Wilderness Gateway Park at the James White Parkway terminus. In July 2021, officials and stakeholders celebrated the extension of the greenway, a new parking lot, lighting and utility installation and improved neighborhood connections, including the entrance to South-Doyle Middle School.
“There are a lot of exciting things in the city, and the Urban Wilderness is just one of them,” said Mayor Indya Kincannon at the Dec. 19 groundbreaking. “People see us investing in land that is hilly and not a good idea for property development. Rather than letting it sit there, they see it can be valuable.”
Any day that it is not raining heavily, Kincannon said park maintenance noticed that bike riders are all over the bike park, using it routinely. “This phase two will make it better,” said the mayor. “A steel canopy pavilion, an Adventure Playground, restrooms and additional parking.”
Renderings of the pavilion designed by Sanders Pace Architecture were on display at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“The playground is still being designed by Great Southern Recreation, and will incorporate the natural landscaping,” said Kincannon. “I’m looking forward to seeing how that shapes up, it should be open this time next year.”
“Phase two with the bathrooms has proven to be really popular,” added Rebekah Jane Justice, deputy chief, Economic & Community Development. “The playground and the pavilion are two different contracts, and two different groups will be working on them in unison. They should be completed by the end of 2023.”
In comparison to other city parks, the playground will be unique thanks to the hillside setting. “The restrooms and water fountains are those little convenience things, and we are excited to layer in those amenities,” said Justice. “People can see the quality of life developing and the creativity in a space where people value it.”
At the same event, Kincannon said the Sevier Avenue Streetscapes Project, including utility upgrades and relocations, should be getting underway soon. It is predicted to take 18 months.
The project will include dedicated on-street parking, smoother, wider sidewalks and an improved roundabout to make an easier route for motorists through the Foggy Bottoms area.
Kincannon mentioned that new streets will be built off Waterfront Drive, extending Barber and Claude Streets while connecting Langford Drive and Waterfront Drive. Sidewalks, streetlights, stormwater drains and on-street parking will also be added.
“Sidewalks are the most popular things,” said Kincannon. “Streetlights and storm water drains are the least noticed until they fail, and more street parking ensures walkability.”
The new sidewalk on Lancaster Drive connecting South-Doyle Middle School and other neighborhood anchors between Tilson Street and Sevierville Pike will be an important enhancement for students walking to school, according to Kincannon.
2022 in Northeast Knoxville brings significance, sweetness and sadness
Carol Z. Shane, Shopper News
Northeast Knoxville is historic, eclectic and culturally diverse. It’s known as a welcome, fertile ground for creative small businesses, and boasts at least three jewels in the city’s crown – the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, Zoo Knoxville and the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum.
In 2022, perhaps making up for lost time during the first year of the pandemic, Northeast Knoxville did not disappoint.
Arguably the most culturally significant event to happen there was the world premiere of “I Can’t Breathe,” Marble City Opera’s production in collaboration with the Beck Cultural Exchange Center of an original opera with music by distinguished African American composer Leslie Savoy Burrs and libretto by MCO’s managing director and beloved actor/bass-baritone Brandon Gibson, who died unexpectedly this past November.
“I really wanted to get to what I felt was the true tragedy of what’s happening,” Gibson said last February in the weeks leading up to the performances at the Beck. “More than ‘Black people good, police bad.’ There’s an opportunity to do so much more. This is not a dramatization or a retelling of the George Floyd story at all. It’s something different than people might be expecting.”
It is indeed. Populated by African American characters from all walks of life – a young mother folding laundry, a high school basketball star, a father readying his family for a trip – the engaging, heartbreaking production, accompanied by orchestra, was largely brought to life by Black performers. It has received national attention, with subsequent performances planned by Opera Columbus, Cleveland Opera Theatre and Pacific Opera Project in Los Angeles.
Gibson, who quit his day job as a bank teller several years ago to follow his dream, was loved by all who knew him – he was sometimes called “The Unofficial Mayor of Knoxville.” His star was rising, and his death leaves behind many broken hearts, including mine. I was fortunate enough to be his piano accompanist many times at Knoxville Opera and elsewhere but more importantly, his friend.
In the spring, fans of Zoo Knoxville rejoiced when a healthy chimp – a female named Stevie – was born on April 22. Because of complications during birth and afterward, she was hand-raised by the Great Apes keeper staff in such a way that “she gets the right rearing to make sure she can go and be a chimp,” said Lisa New, Zoo Knoxville’s CEO. Chimpanzees are listed as critically endangered, and strict chimp-appropriate protocols have been observed for Stevie’s care. As a result, she’s hit all of her milestones and now, at 8 months old, is on view at Zoo Knoxville. For details, and to see her progress, zooknoxville.org/an-update-on-stevies-story/
Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation has had a very busy year, with the opening of the newly renovated Guy B. Love Towers, several Little Free Libraries, the Western Heights Head Start, and new Matter Health wellness centers onsite at Isabella Towers and Northgate Terrace. The wellness centers provide convenient access to physical and mental health and lifestyle support. They also include a patient lounge, consultation and virtual health room, and an exam room.
And of course, there was the annual KCDC Easter Egg hunt at Western Heights, which attracted hundreds of kids.
“There are a lot of ways that you can move the needle on quality of life for families and children,” said KCDC CEO Ben Bentley. “You have to make sure that whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it together with the community. The residents are the most important stakeholders. We want to make sure that we’re hearing everybody.”
On June 12, family and friends came from near and far to help Zenobia “Zib” and David Booth celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary at Knoxville High Senior Living, where they met and began dating when it was Knoxville High School in the 1940s. The couple were tricked into attending their surprise party by their daughter-in-law Alana, who told them she was taking them out for dinner and an overnight stay in Townsend. David remembered that “Cupid hit me pretty hard” the first time he ever laid eyes on Zib. He said their celebration and stay was “all about old memories and it was a huge surprise, and we enjoyed every bit of it.”
The Rev. Chris Battle has been fighting the good food fight on behalf of his fellow East siders since 2018 when he hung up his preacher’s robe and put on a pair of overalls to launch Battlefield Farm and Gardens. With its beginnings as a “gleaning fence,” offering fresh produce to anyone who needed it free of charge, the organization is dedicated to providing fresh fruits and vegetables to a community with limited access to healthy nutrition. “In my community the biggest enemy isn’t a drive-by – it’s the drive-through,” said Battle in 2019.
That mission was put on wheels this summer when Battle was able to buy a decommissioned truck from Steve Diggs, president and CEO of Emerald Youth Foundation. Christened “Fannie Lou” after Fannie Lou Hamer, Civil Rights activist and founder of Freedom Farm Cooperative, and staffed by volunteers, the bus makes weekly stops in East Knoxville neighborhoods. In season, fresh produce is grown at the Farm’s site. Battle also collaborates with local food banks and farmers markets, making sure that none of the bounty is wasted.
In 2021, the Young Professionals of Knoxville presented an “Impact” award to Battlefield Farm & Gardens, and the organization was recently featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Over 60 students of all ages and abilities took part in an outdoor free yoga session when The Glowing Body Yoga & Healing Arts Studio held its 14th birthday celebration at Knoxville Botanical Gardens and Arboretum on Sept. 8.
Like many businesses which depend upon live customer interaction, the Glowing Body made many adjustments when the pandemic lockdowns went into effect, including developing a streaming service and, much later, in-house distancing and masking protocols. In her opening remarks, teacher and co-owner Kim Lomonaco looked back over the studio’s history.
“We’ve watched people come with a need for introspection during times of upheaval. We’ve watched people come to fill a need to induce growth and transformation in their lives. And we’ve watched people come for a steady reminder of their body and their breath, and their capacity for carrying on – no matter their circumstances.”
Participant Jane Johnson, who will celebrate her 80th birthday in May, said of her regular yoga practice, “I think it’s real good for me.”
Northeast Knoxville also gave us the popular annual North Hills Plant Sale, the holiday Tour de Lights and outdoor Merry Makers holiday market, and much, much more. Here’s to carrying on, Northeast-style, in 2023!
Gresham's Glacial Gladiators to take Polar Plunge in Special Olympics fundraiser
Ali James, Shopper News
Gresham Middle School special education teacher Rachel Babelay and a group of brave teachers and students will willingly take the Knoxville Polar Plunge to raise money for the Special Olympics on Feb. 18, 2023.
The Polar Plunge is a nationwide fundraising effort. “It is not always at the same time. You pick a cold-water month and get the privilege of jumping in a body of water,” said Babelay. “Right now, we have nine members on the school team – three students and six teachers. It is not a requirement, but it is a great way to raise money for your program.”
Some sign up as individuals, but most schools running a unified program (special needs students who compete with their peer tutors) will register their team in January. Each participant commits to raise at least $75 ($50 per student) by reaching out to friends and family and on social media.
The Polar Plunge is held at the Westside Y and it’s a huge event, with all of the Knoxville teams participating at the same time.
“You can dress up and coordinate costumes; some go all out,” said Babelay. “If you are a chicken and don’t want to take the polar plunge, you can still raise the same amount and put your foot into the baby pool. I have a former peer tutor who moved to California and will participate on our team by proxy.”
Above all, it is a friendly competition and nice to work as a team, according to Babelay. A straightforward donation, sending a letter to wish them luck or attending the Polar Plunge to cheer on the GMS Glacial Gladiators would all be appreciated.
Through the Polar Plunge, schools collectively raise money, with a certain percentage going directly back to Gresham’s program.
“We hope to buy sports equipment for our athletes and for leisure activities,” said Babelay. “It may not be basketballs, it might be cornhole or anything involving teamwork – we can use it for water bottles, timers or anything involved in preparing for the Special Olympics or running our unified team. We are looking to update our uniforms and pay for special transportation where they require a seatbelt.”
When Babelay expands her team, she can incur additional transportation costs and participation fees.
“I serve students that have severe to profound disabilities,” said Babelay, who has taught in both general and CDC classes in Knox County and is in her third year at the school.
The Special Olympics is not just one event, it runs through the school year. “There is one event or sport during each month, so we have: bocce, basketball, bowling, ice-skating, and volleyball,” said Babelay. “Within track and field, you become eligible for state games. The state allots us so many spots depending on interest.”
The winter games are in Ober Gatlinburg and include skiing, snowboarding and ice skating. “None of my students really participate in that. We did basketball and we are doing volleyball and track and field in the spring,” said Babelay.
An integral part of the Special Olympics is practice, she continued – practicing skills, playing as a team and developing teamwork with their peer tutors.
The Special Olympics athlete can compete independently or with their peer tutor as part of the unified team.
The Special Olympics are open to any student who has an IEP, Babelay said. That includes students who don’t tend to try out for sports or rec teams but could benefit from this extra supportive environment.
“They don’t have to be in my program,” she added. “They can be students with autism or a student that may really struggle with reading and math and they may have some social and emotional issues. They are eligible, too.”
It takes work to be a unified team, according to Babelay. “The Special Olympics coaches are making an active and conscientious effort to educate the student body, to integrate and promote the inclusive environment,” said Babelay.
“Our school is doing the Polar Plunge to help awareness. A lot of students really benefit from the education, but there is still a stigma.”
Babelay said peer tutors may not want to be a special education teacher, but they may make a friend. “They may not know the impact they have had,” she said on Dec. 20. “We just had a holiday celebration today and invited the peer tutors. My class was so excited, they really want that interaction. I think as a whole, you’re not as aware how much they and the school community benefit from that interaction.”
To donate to the Polar Plunge fundraiser, go to https://www.classy.org/event/knoxville-polar-plunge-2023/e442206 and designate GMS Glacial Gladiators.
To show support for the Special Olympics page for the Knox Region go to https://www.specialolympicstn.org/east-tennessee/greater-knoxville-area-5?locale=en.
State championship made extra-special family memory for West principal and quarterback
John Shearer, Shopper News
At West High School, Dr. Ashley Speas is the principal and administrative leader, while 12th grader Carson Jessie was the starting quarterback and leader on the field for the state champion Rebel football team.
Away from school, they are mother and son.
In a fall in which the school won only its second state title in its more than 70-year history, this family connection became an equally remarkable storyline. While it's quite common for sons of head coaches to be among the top players on a team, it's rare to see standout athletic sons or daughters of principals.
For Speas, who knows of no other similar family connection, the fruitful fall of work-related and family-related pride all coming together in one happy moment was special.
“It was a great night, a super fun night,” she said of the Dec. 2 state Class 5A championship game win over Page High of Franklin in Chattanooga. “It was very surreal, an exciting time for our community and for our family.”
Jessie, who received the additional honor of being named the title game’s MVP, is still savoring the night and the whole season, too.
“Mom knows how much time and effort I put into it,” he said. “It was really special, that time with her and the teammates and the coaches.”
'Helmets hitting each other'
Speas was also near her son physically as well as emotionally during the undefeated run. That's because, unlike most parents, Speas watches the games from the sidelines as part of her administrative and support duties as principal. That has given her an even greater appreciation for what her son does, she said.
“You can hear all the helmets hitting each other and feel like a part of the team, too,” she said.
She also has developed a greater appreciation for the coaches, including head coach Lamar Brown, whom she interviewed for the job before he started prior to the 2017 season. At the time, her son was only getting ready to enter the seventh grade, but she already had in mind a coach she would like as a parent and as a principal.
“I told him, ‘You’re a coach I’d want to coach my son, and if you’re good enough to coach my son, you are good enough to coach everybody else’s kids,’ ” she recalled telling Brown.
Brown also praised Speas in a recent interview about the season, saying she wants football to be one part of uniting the entire school. “Ashley is unbelievable. She does a great job leading the school,” he said.
Speas knows a little about sports, as she grew up in Kentucky playing golf and went on to play at Carson-Newman University.
“I always loved to watch sports and talk about sports,” she said.
Jessie, whose father, Adam, was also athletic as a high school basketball player in Kentucky, attended Shannondale Elementary and Gresham Middle School before enrolling at West as a freshman.
'We all like her'
While he admitted going to school where his mother was the principal and person in charge took a little getting used to initially, he soon adjusted. “It’s a totally different aspect, but me and my mom became accustomed to it,” he said. “It is not as bad as people think.”
Even for his friends, the situation has not been uncomfortable, he added. “It’s just different. Some people think it might be annoying, but we all like her.”
Also offering support is Carson’s twin sister, Taylor, whom Speas calls Jessie’s biggest cheerleader and who is involved in the pep club and student council and takes classes at Pellissippi State.
“They are very involved, very busy,” Speas said of the two.
While several West players plan to continue playing football in college, Jessie said he instead will likely enroll at the University of Tennessee as a regular student, with plans to study a discipline such as business, finance or accounting.
But before then, this quarterback who threw for 21 touchdowns and passed for 1,816 yards will focus on some other numbers, like the 15 wins this year.
“It was very special,” he said of the season in which he was able to rebound after suffering a concussion at the end of the 2021 season. “From the moment we came in during the summer, you could tell it was going to be a dream year.”
And he also will remember fondly the handful of family members, including his mother, who were able to experience the season up close.
“She is a very supportive mother, and I love her to death,” he said.
Speas, in turn, will not soon forget the fall of 2022 and the season that culminated with the state championship for her school and the MVP honor for her son.
“It will go down in my memory as one of the best moments of my life,” she said.
For most Tennessee fans, 2022 was amazing. Let's hold on to that. | Mike Strange
Rudolph comes out of retirement
Leslie Snow, Shopper News
My father-in-law was a serious man with a mind full of facts. He could discuss almost any subject and sound like an expert. He didn’t just read the paper, he absorbed it. He watched C-SPAN for fun. He made “Jeopardy” seem easy.
But buried beneath all the facts and figures was a keen sense of humor and a kind heart. And every year when our kids were little, he pushed aside his serious nature and pretended to be Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, leading Santa’s sleigh to deliver gifts to all his Jewish grandchildren.
At first, I didn’t know what to make of the yearly ritual. I wasn’t raised with Christmas, and something about seeing my children’s excitement over the arrival of Santa Claus made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure if I was betraying my faith or confusing my kids. And as much as I wanted to participate in my husband’s holiday traditions, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was doing something wrong.
But then I saw the unexpected understanding in my father-in-law’s eyes. I saw his kindness and his eagerness to create a little holiday magic for his grandchildren. My unease fell away. I watched him put on his winter parka and the wool driving cap he liked to wear. I saw him grab a flashlight, already wrapped in red cellophane, and head out the door to play Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. And I laughed.
I’ll never forget the sight of Jordan, frantically corralling her younger brother, trying to get him to bed before Santa could discover they were awake. Or the sight of Zack scurrying up the stairs behind her in his footy pajamas.
My father-in-law passed away before our youngest son, Ethan, could discover that Rudolph made a yearly appearance in Elmhurst, Illinois. Jordan and Zack have only a faint memory of seeing the glow of Rudolph’s nose before hurrying to bed. It seemed a shame to lose the tradition of Rudolph’s ride, but somehow, the magic of those early years could never be replicated.
But this year, with thoughts of my father-in-law dancing in my head, I brought Rudolph out of retirement. While my three grandchildren were being buckled into their car seats on Christmas Eve, I threw on my parka and hat, grabbed a flashlight wrapped in red tissue paper, and hurried out the back door.
In my excitement, I didn’t consider that I live in the woods and that darting like a reindeer wouldn’t be easy. I tore my leggings and scraped my skin on the underbrush, but it was worth it just to hear 7-year-old Simon exclaim, “That was Rudolph! We just saw the real Rudolph!” And then to hear Clara’s joyful reply, “Simon, do you know how lucky we are? Most kids never get to see Rudolph!”
Later, after the kids were gone and we were alone, my husband wrapped me in a tight hug. I know he was thinking about his father and remembering the rare smile he saved just for his grandchildren.
“My Dad would have loved seeing that,” my husband said softly. “Who would have thought, after all these years, that it would be my Jewish wife traipsing through the woods pretending to be Rudolph.”
But I wanted to do it. Because I remember the knowing look my father-in-law gave me. I remember seeing the joy on his face as he watched his grandchildren soak up the magic of the season. I was happy to bring Rudolph back. He’d been gone for too many years. And I missed him.
Leslie Snow may be reached at snow email@example.com.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn wrong about US attorney nominee | Victor Ashe
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Shopper News brings you the latest happenings in your community