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The Future of Ijams Nature Center

Developing a connection to nature is directly related to the desire to protect and conserve our natural heritage and to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle. Our health and the health of the environment depend upon having a community whose members have a positive and caring relationship with nature.

 

Ijams Nature Center is working to strengthen the bonds between people and nature by creating better access to nature for all. Ijams seeks to connect our diverse community with nature, create access to experiences that can become part of everyone’s regular rhythm of daily life, and empower our community members to make that happen.

 

As a core part of the Knoxville Urban Wilderness, a beloved outdoor resource, and the region’s only nature center, Ijams is an integral part of the community. As Knox County and Knoxville work to advance infrastructure and resources to meet the needs of a quickly growing population as well as a large tourism market, it is time for Ijams Nature Center to improve its existing facilities and create new ones to accommodate population growth and an increased interest in outdoor recreation and authentic experiences in both residents and visitors

 

To support the increased use of Ijams Nature Center and to create more access to nature for all, Ijams has developed a comprehensive Master Plan. The Master Plan outlines the project vision and goals, including:

 

  • Improving access for people of all abilities to more areas of Ijams Nature Center, including the Visitor Center and bluff system, entryway and road crossings, Miller Building, Homesite gardens, and Mead’s Quarry.

  • Improving facilities and infrastructure to meet the demands of increased visitation and use.

  • Creating additional outdoor classroom and event spaces using existing footprints.

  • Improving parking and safety. 

  • Renovating the existing Visitor Center to modernize the visitor experience, add classroom space, and improve the efficiency of building use and systems.

  • Elevating the experience at Mead’s Quarry through better infrastructure, permanent multi-use buildings, and better access to Mead’s Quarry Lake. 

Island Home Corridor

Ijams Nature Center’s four main entrances are located along a one-half-mile section of Island Home Avenue and are considered the Island Home Corridor. This corridor is where visitors get their first impression of the nature center. Currently, pedestrian and vehicular traffic are at slight odds, requiring visitors to cross Island Home Avenue on foot in several locations. Improvements to the Island Home Corridor will better align entrances, slow traffic, improve pedestrian safety, and give a sense of arrival to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to Ijams. 

Operations Center

Ijams Nature Center has active Natural Resource Management and General Operations programs. These two departments operate out of six substandard locations, making efficiency difficult. A new Operations Center will allow these programs to work out of a centralized location that securely contains all equipment and tools necessary for daily operations. The Operations Center also will consolidate spaces in more public areas into a space no longer directly accessible by visitors. This new facility will significantly increase efficiency and security, and provide dedicated work areas for maintenance and repairs.

Visitor Center Renovation 

Built in 1997, the Visitor Center is a 14,000-square-foot hub of activity at Ijams Nature Center. It houses classrooms, administrative offices, animal exhibits, a gift shop, operations equipment storage, an ample meeting space, a back patio, and Navitat offices. Hundreds of visitors, students, and program participants enter its doors daily for general orientation, classes, meetings, and events. This space has served the community well, but requires an update to modernize facilities, create additional classroom space, improve access, provide additional services, and make flexible spaces that will allow future growth for programs and staff. 

Canopy Walkway

The Ijams Nature Center experience is easy for those with good mobility, but more limited for people with disabilities. This is due mainly to the topography of the land, which makes most trails too challenging to navigate for some visitors. The Canopy Walkway, which will form a loop from the back patio of the Visitor Center, will offer a completely accessible experience of the Ijams bluffs. It will allow all visitors to move through the treetops and over the bluffs to enjoy and appreciate the area's ecology and provide educational opportunities for canopy ecology, birdwatching, and other programs that will be accessible to all.