Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ijams Nature Center: North Cove/River/Tower Loop (Blog Hike #419)

Trails: North Cove, River, and Tower Trails
Hike Location: Ijams Nature Center, Wildlife Sanctuary
Geographic Location: south side of KnoxvilleTN (35.95623, -83.86726)
Length: 1.2 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: April 2013
Overview: A loop hike to the banks of the Tennessee River.
Center Information:
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: In downtown Knoxville, enter south on the James White Parkway.  After crossing the Tennessee River, take the first exit onto Hillwood Ave.  Turn left on Hillwood Ave.  Take Hillwood Ave. 0.5 miles to its terminus at Island Home Avenue and turn right on Island Home Ave.  Ijams Nature Center is 1.4 miles ahead on the left.

The hike: Known to locals simply as the “Bird Sanctuary,” Ijams Nature Center (pronounced “eye-mms”) traces its beginnings way back to 1910.  The center is named for Harry and Alice Yoe Ijams whose home site sits on the very western portion of today’s nature center property.  Harry was known as Knoxville’s leading bird expert, and Alice Yoe was known as the “First Lady of Knoxville’s Garden Clubs.”  Harry Ijams is most famous nationally for the artwork he did to promote the Great Smoky Mountains National Parkduring the early years of its existence.
            In the 1960’s, the Knoxville Garden Club, Knox County Council of Garden Clubs, and the City of Knoxville worked together to turn the Ijams property into a nature park that is open to the public. Today Ijams Nature Center remains a private not-for-profit organization, and the center’s 275 acres make a wonderful green oasis on the south bank of the Tennessee River in the heart of suburban Knoxville.
            Ijams Nature Center has over 10 miles of trails divided into two sections: Mead’s Quarry/Ross Marble Nature Area located south of Island Home Avenue and the Wildlife Sanctuary/Learning Center located north of Island Home Ave.  Good hikes can be had in both sections, but the center’s oldest and most famous trails all lie in the north section.  This hike takes you under some rocky bluffs and right to the bank of the Tennessee River along the center’s most famous trail of all.           
Trailhead: North Cove Trail
            From the front of the Visitor Center, pick up the paved wheelchair-accessible Universal Trail is it heads northeast away from the parking lot.  Very quickly you reach the trailhead for the North Cove Trail, where this hike turns left to leave the pavement.  The wide dirt/mulch North Cove Trail descends to the river in serpentine fashion using several switchbacks, so the grade is never too steep.  The back of the Visitor Center can be seen uphill to your left.
Intersecting the River Trail
            0.2 miles into the hike, the North Cove Trail ends at an intersection with the Discovery Trail, which heads left, and the River Trail, which continues straight.  The Discovery Trail makes an interesting side trip to a lotus pond with a short boardwalk, but this hike will continue straight on the River Trail to get to the main attraction.  As you would expect from the trail’s name, obstructed views of the wide Tennessee River soon appear through the trees on your left.
            At 0.4 miles, you reach the riverside boardwalk that makes Ijams Nature Center famous.  The wooden boardwalk clings tight to the sheer rock bluffs on the right with the river now in full view to the left.  When I hiked this boardwalk on a warm late Saturday afternoon in mid-April, two kayakers were paddling downstream while a paddlewheel-style party boat rocked its way upstream.  Bats are known to live in the caves under these rocky bluffs, but I did not see any on my visit.  The boardwalk’s location on the outside of a wide river bend makes it a good place to observe river activity, so stay for awhile and see what you can see.           
Tennessee River

Boardwalk on River Trail
            Just after stepping off the boardwalk, a set of wooden steps leads up and right to a geologic fold.  The exposed rock of the river bluffs gives you a rare opportunity to observe the result of the geologic forces that formed the Appalachian mountains many thousands of years ago.  You can see that the layered sedimentary rock appears bent, a result of tectonic movements in the earth’s crust.
            Back on the River Trail, the trail heads for the extreme northeast corner of the sanctuary where, at 0.8 miles, it curves sharply right as an industrial area comes into view straight ahead.  Now climbing gradually, the trail follows an ugly power line clearing for 0.1 miles to arrive at a trail intersection.  The Toll Creek Loop exiting left provides a short boardwalk along its namesake creek, but this hike will turn right to exit the power line clearing and begin the Tower Trail.           
Intersection with Toll Creek Trail
            The Tower Trail climbs steeply but only for a short distance to arrive at a bench that offers a bird’s eye view of the Tennessee River during the leafless months.  After gaining 125 feet of elevation in 0.15 miles, you reach the highest point in the Wildlife Sanctuary and this trail’s namesake tower.  The “tower” is actually a directional beacon for the nearby Knoxville Downtown Island Airport; it is a thin metal structure about 20 feet in height.
Passing the "tower"
            Past the tower, the Tower Trail descends moderately past some nice tulip poplar trees to arrive at its end, a junction with the South Cove Trail.  Turning right on the South Cove Trail, the Visitor Center and parking area soon come into view through the trees ahead.  After exiting the woods and returning to pavement, a brief walk past some lotus-filled frog ponds is all that remains to complete the hike.

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