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monarch butterfly on native milkweed at ijams nature center

Mission, Vision & History

two women on small dock examining aquatic organisms at ijams


To encourage stewardship of the natural world by providing an urban greenspace for people to learn about and enjoy the outdoors through engaging experiences. 



Through direct experience with the outdoors all people will appreciate and care for the natural world.

mother and child in ijams forest with fairy house

In 1910, Harry (HP) Ijams, an illustrator and ornithologist, and his wife, Alice Yoe Ijams, an avid gardener, purchased 20 acres of land along the Tennessee River to raise their four girls.

Throughout their lives, the Ijams family celebrated nature. HP created a Bird Sanctuary on the homesite, while Alice grew flowers and sold them to a local florist. They were integral to the creation of a local Girl Scouts organization in 1923, and donated part of their property to the Girl Scouts, which created Camp Mary Ijams along the river.

Camp Margaret Townsend in the Smokies was created in part through Ijams and Townsend family ties. HP also helped establish the first official campsite on Mount LeConte, and used his artistry as a commercial illustrator to promote the Smoky Mountains as a national park.

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In 1966, wanting to protect the Bird Sanctuary and ensure the Ijams family legacy continued, the Knoxville Garden Club and Knox County Council of Garden Clubs applied for an open space grant and the City of Knoxville purchased the land. Ijams Nature Park was dedicated in 1968.


The park became Ijams Nature Center, Inc., a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, on Nov. 8, 1975.

Over the years, Ijams Nature Center has grown in size and stature to become the region’s leading wildlife sanctuary and environmental learning center.

In the early 2000s, the nature center took on the management of Mead’s and Ross Marble quarries, which in their heyday produced Tennessee marble used in local buildings and national monuments. Great strides have been made to restore this former industrial site to its natural state while continuing to honor the history of Knoxville's contributions to a once booming marble business.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Ijams family's legacy in 2010, a visual history book detailing the Ijams family, Mead’s and Ross Marble quarries, and the development of the nature center was captured by Paul James.

The book includes examples of HP’s inimitable artwork promoting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, family Christmas postcards, and more. You'll find it in the Ijams gift shop along with other family history tie-ins, including:

  • "A Place by the River," a DVD of the Emmy-nominated documentary produced by WBIR-TV's award-winning Heartland Series

  • HP Ijams’ map print of the Great Smoky Mountains, circa 1936

  • HP Ijams’ Great Smoky Mountains Note Cards

  • Ijams Family Christmas Postcard Set

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