The Urban Wilderness Gateway Park transforms an underutilized four-lane highway into a continuous, 2-mile, 113-acre linear park.


Urban Wilderness Gateway Park

Knoxville, TN
Urban Wilderness Gateway Park will transform the James White Parkway into a linear park and a gateway to Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, a spectacular 1000-acre outdoor adventure area that includes over 50 miles of trails and greenways, a nature center, lakes, historic sites, dramatic quarries, adventure playgrounds, five city parks, and a 500-acre wildlife area. The overall framework plan for the Urban Wilderness Gateway comprises  three critical layers: access and community connections, continuous programming amenities, and program nodes and destinations. Access and connections define the points of entry into the park and consider improved connectivity between the park and existing neighborhood destinations to improve overall mobility in South Knoxville neighborhoods as well as across the Tennessee River. Continuous programming amenities are the elements that run the length of the corridor — trails, wayfinding, lighting, planting and ecology. Program nodes are the unique spaces and programming opportunities that punctuate the corridor.
Traffic: Gresham Smith
Architect: Sanders Pace Architecture
Structural Engineer: Fe Design & Engineering
Civil Engineer: Vaughn & Melton
Ecology + Restoration: Equinox
2019 ASLA Tennessee Merit Award (Framework Plan)
2019 ASLA Tennessee Honor Award (Community Event)
2019 AIA Philadelphia Merit Award (Master Plan)
2019 ASLA Illinois Burnham Planning Award
2019 ASLA Illinois Merit Award (Community Event)
Landscape Planning + Design
Landscape Architecture

Site Context

In the 1980’s, TDOT began construction of the James White Parkway in an effort to link Downtown Knoxville to its larger context. However, the project was never completed. JWP remains a seldom used, four-lane highway extending from Downtown Knoxville south across the Tennessee River where it terminates in a dead-end.

Community Engagement

To share project ideas and gather input from the community, the City of Knoxville and the Urban Wilderness Project Team hosted a public exhibition and block party at the James White Parkway Terminus. For the first time, party-goers had the opportunity to experience the terminus as pedestrians.

Community Engagement

The centerpiece of the Block Party was a 50’ long matchbox car-scale plan of the project that included a kid-sized “gopher hole.” This giant map wasn’t just a fun, kid-oriented activity board but a valuable opportunity to communicate the scale and uniqueness of the design opportunity to the general public.

Community Engagement

Attendees were encouraged to complete questionnaires to provide feedback about the public’s priorities and ambitions for the area. Attendees were also invited to learn about the project through interactive large-scale diagrams, drawings, and aerial photographs that used a myriad of pins, notecards, stickies and custom event postcards to gather feedback.

Framework Plan

The framework plan for the Urban Wilderness Gateway consists of three critical layers: 1) access and community connections; 2) continuous programming amenities; and 3) program nodes and destinations.

Phase 1 + Phase 2 Project Areas

The public engagement work confirmed the need for a well-connected and accessible site. Linkages between destinations and access points will be made clear, legible, and logical. The first phases of the Urban Wilderness Gateway will include public realm improvements at the terminus of James White Parkway and at Baker Creek Preserve and new greenway connections between them.

Parkway Terminus

The James White Parkway Terminus design unites the two worlds of the site - urban and wild – in order to create a strong, distinctive threshold that accentuates these differences and celebrates the underpass as a framing device and a place for gathering and play.

Baker Creek Preserve Construction

The improvements at Baker Creek Preserve create a new space for events and gathering while creating a legible front door to the extensive mountain bike trail network of South Knoxville.

The Urban Wilderness Gateway Park links neighborhoods throughout South Knoxville to the regional outdoor recreation venue.

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