Creating a Healthier Community Through Meals, Outdoor Adventures and More

By Sage Learn | Posted on June 2, 2014

One of the best parts of working for the National Recreation and Park Association is visiting our members and seeing all of the terrific work that is being done in communities across the country. Our recent visit to Knoxville Parks and Recreation Department in Tennessee, one of 50 agencies that recently received a grant through NRPA and the Walmart Foundation to provide better access to healthy meals, was no exception. My colleague Kellie May and I were blown away by what is happening with parks and recreation in this city next to the Great Smoky Mountains. The impressive greenway system connecting citizens across Knoxville to trails and parks, the Urban Wilderness, which has 42 miles of trails, and a comprehensive approach of reaching out and providing opportunities for seniors, is changing how Knoxvillians think about park and recreation while creating a healthier community.

Of the many stellar facilities and programs we saw during our time in Knoxville, I’d like to highlight the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center, the Healthy Snacks Program and the Senior Outdoors! event.

Knoxville Outdoors

We visited the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center, which opened in 2012 thanks to the Legacy Parks Foundation and the City of Knoxville. The Adventure Center and the Knoxville Urban Wilderness introduce and connect people to the great outdoors of Knoxville. The Urban Wilderness has 1,000-forested acres along Knoxville’s downtown waterfront that includes 10 parks, more than 40 miles of recreational trails, four civil war sites, incredible views and unparalleled natural features. From the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center we took a kayak trip down the Tennessee River, a scenic and fun way to see the beauty of the city. Our guide was very patient with us as we took in the view and slowly paddled down the river.  



Residents of Knoxville, TN can visit the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center and Urban Wilderness to get connected to  nature and the great outdoors


Healthy Snacks, Happy Kids

It was a pleasure to see the kids at the community centers enjoying some healthy snacks as they poured in after school. I can only imagine the energy it takes from the dedicated staff to keep up with these youngsters. The Knoxville Parks and Recreation hosts the free After School Program in the City of Knoxville’s community centers during the school year and a Summer Playground Program during the summer months. In partnership with the Knoxville Community Action Committee they provide fresh snacks to the kids participating in the After School Program and Summer Playground Program. This week (June 2 – 6) is the kick-off to the annual Summer Food Service Program, which is designed to make sure children have access to and receive healthy meals and food during the summer months. It was exciting to see a feeding program in action in Knoxville. Likewise, it is exciting to know that park and recreation agencies across the country are ready to kick-off similar programs to ensure children get the healthy and nutritious meals they need this summer.

Seniors Getting Active

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero has made seniors a priority and was appointed to a Task Force on Aging that was created by the Tennessee Governor.  With a growing aging population, Knoxville Parks and Recreation is working on finding new ways to get seniors active. We joined Joe Walsh, Director of Knoxville Parks and Recreation for their Seniors Outdoors! event,  a half-day event  aimed at introducing adults over the age of 50 to outdoor activities, such as organized hikes along the river, paddle kayaks, paddle boards and bicycling on the trails. Despite an unusually rainy and cool day, a crowd of seniors packed Mead’s Quarry at Ijams for the lunchtime event. It was inspiring to see so many of the 50+ community out celebrating the outdoors and physical activity. A senior boom is on the horizon. How is your agency preparing to serve more seniors?

These stories and images will be an invaluable asset to use on Capitol Hill as I advocate the importance of supporting and funding parks and recreation with our political leaders. 

Thank you to everyone at the Knoxville Parks and Recreation Department, it was a treat to meet with so many of their committed and inspirational team!  A special thank you to Kathleen Gibi, our gracious host, who facilitated the visit and showed us some of what Knoxville has to offer; Kathleen almost inspired a move to the South. For more about Knoxville, look for my article featuring Knoxville’s Mayor Madeline Rogero in the June issue of Parks & Recreation Magazine.


Sage Learn is NRPA's Government Affairs Manager.