Maintain and expand a beautiful and healthy natural environment with recreational assets that are accessible to everyone.
Oak Ridge offers abundant natural open space and opportunities for outdoor, human-powered recreation and sports. Residents and visitors enjoy miles of greenways and trails for both walking and mountain biking, and several amenities that cannot be found in most cities. These include an outdoor public pool fed by a natural spring, accessible waterfront with one of the country’s best competitive rowing venues, a skate park, public golf course, disc golf courses, and an outdoor amphitheater. Overall, this small city boasts 150 miles of shoreline, 85 miles of greenways and trails, and a wealth of scenic beauty.
On the east side of State Route 62, the University of Tennessee owns and manages an area of 2,204 acres known as the Oak Ridge Forest. This site is the headquarters for the UT Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center. The land is mainly used for forestry and wildlife research, except for the 250-acre Arboretum, which is accessible to the public and includes 5 miles of interpretive nature trails, educational events, and an auditorium facility. Explore Oak Ridge, the convention and visitors bureau, estimates that more than 30,000 visitors visit the UT Arboretum every year.
In addition, portions of the Oak Ridge Reservation managed by the Department of Energy include recreation areas that allow full or limited access to the public. Clark Center Park includes a swimming area, boat ramp, playground, and ball fields.
Clark Center Park lies within the 3,000-acre Three Bend Scenic and Wildlife Management Refuge, which is managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and is generally not open to the public. The refuge protects important habitat for threatened, endangered, and rare animal species, including bald eagles, ospreys, and migrant songbirds. The area also contains the historic Freels Cabin (1820s) which was part of the first settlements in the area.
At the northwest end of the Oak Ridge Turnpike, TWRA manages another 3,000 acres in the Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement (BORCE), which is open to hikers and mountain bikers from dawn to dusk, and contains interesting plant and tree species, including some that are unusual for the Ridge and Valley region.
To the east of the BORCE, the North Boundary Greenway surrounds the City’s Horizon Center Industrial Park, with main public access from the west guard house on the Turnpike. This and other DOE lands periodically allow deer and turkey hunting.
Another protected area, Grassy Creek Habitat Protection Area, is part of the 1,200-acre peninsula owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority along the Clinch River, also known as the Clinch River Nuclear Site for potential power generation (no current operation).
The generous system of public open spaces, trails, and parks is a legacy of the City’s original plan, and continues to improve. It enriches the quality of place, but also requires significant maintenance that stretches the resources of the Recreation and Parks Department.
Many dedicated individuals and organizations assist by serving on the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board, recruiting volunteers to maintain and improve facilities, promoting recreational events, other supportive measures. These partners include various sports associations, youth support organizations, convention and visitors bureau, and advocacy groups such as:
Greenways Oak Ridge – formed in the early 1990’s, this group primarily advocates for a network of foot trails in the city, and was instrumental in creating paved, off-street pathways (Melton Lake & Emory Valley) and DOE patrol road greenways (Gallaher Bend & North Boundary).
Clinch Valley Trail Alliance (CVTA) – a newly-formed chapter of IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association). The group rose out of the ashes of the recently disbanded Friends of Haw Ridge, which was limited to trail work in Haw Ridge by charter. The scope of CVTA encompasses multi-use trails in all of Roane and Anderson counties.
Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning (TCWP) – originally formed to create and maintain the North Ridge Trail to provide a buffer on the north edge of the City. TCWP also manages the Oak Ridge Barrens State Natural Area adjacent to Jefferson Middle School, which offers a small trail system among rare and sensitive plant species.
Key objectives for enhancing and improving our natural assets include:
Connectivity – The existing system of natural open spaces, trails, and waterways is somewhat disconnected, making it difficult to move from one area to another in many instances. This plan aims to create strategic connections among our natural assets to improve ease of access and use. One great opportunity is the chance to use our stream- & creek-ways as paths to connect open spaces and various natural assets to the property around them.
Accessibility – it is imperative to design all improvements to natural and recreational assets with accessibility in mind, so that the widest array of citizens can enjoy these resources.
Safety – parks, trails and open
space allow us to get outside and relax, but recreational sites should utilize principles of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) in parking areas, trailheads and other facilities to help users stay safe.
Environmental Quality – plant materials, proper drainage and erosion control, and flood control measures all improve air and water quality across the city.
Aesthetics/Beauty – our natural assets provide an amazing backdrop for Oak Ridge, making our community context one of the most beautiful in the region. Proper maintenance of our parks, streams and open spaces will help keep the area beautiful.
Preservation – the City is fortunate to be immersed in a federal reservation with over 25,000 acres of mostly untouched land. Oak Ridgers have great respect and love for their greenbelts and other natural areas, and are committed to conserving these assets for generations to come.
In August 2018, a small focus group representing various interests helped to identify needs and opportunities for the City’s recreation and natural assets.
The following list of ideas and actions, largely based on community input, are recommended to enhance and expand the network of natural and recreational assets in Oak Ridge.
- Continue to find funding to complete the Rails to Trails Greenway Project along 4.85 miles of abandoned CSX railroad through the heart of the city. Build on the momentum by planning for pedestrian walkability and new connections to the greenway from surrounding neighborhoods and trails. Add an urban trail to connect the greenway from the outer edge of the Woodland neighborhood to the city center and A.K. Bissell Park.
- Market Oak Ridge as a recreation destination.
- Leverage the City’s public facilities, location, and community support to attract revenue-generating events and programs that can support the maintenance and updating of facilities.
- Consider hiring a Recreation and Parks business or special events manager to pursue bids for national events and help sports organizations coordinate a range of participatory and spectator events in Oak Ridge.
- For example, The Mounds at Groves Park on Tuskegee Drive is one of the more popular disc golf courses in the Knoxville region. It currently hosts two tournaments every year, sanctioned by the Professional Disc Golf Association, and has local club and community support for generating more frequent and larger events.
- Consider cost-benefits of investing in larger rehabilitation projects instead of basic maintenance. For example, the high school’s Ben Martin Track could be improved to competition standards for regional track and field meets and attract a range of events.
- Enhance A.K. Bissell Park by restoring the natural stream (tributary) and ecosystem as an effective stormwater conveyance facility. Invigorate activity in the park by adding seating and some hard-surfaced areas for events.
- Develop priorities for Melton Lake Park improvements and schedule implementation timeframes, including (based on the 2009 Waterfront Master Plan):
- Develop major boat house/multi-purpose event facility, with rowing team locker rooms, showers, etc., to enhance desirability for major rowing events and serve other events and functions year-round;
- Add facilities including: concessions, restrooms, rowing-business offices, boat rentals;
- Evaluate potential for outdoor amphitheater in marina area;
- Build a pedestrian/bike bridge over the neck of the lagoon to connect the trails around the park and to give rowing coaches ability to track their teams more effectively during races.
- Prepare a Natural Assets Plan or Map with an inventory of open space and recreation in Oak Ridge, to identify opportunities for enhanced connectivity, access, and utilization. The plan should also address opportunities to better connect, protect, and capitalize on these assets. The information will help guide City project priorities and public-private partnerships.
- Coordinate strategic land and resource planning efforts between the City of Oak Ridge and the U.S. Department of Energy to establish an ongoing process to synchronize planning efforts, including the future use of the approximately 25,000 acres of forested federal reservation.
- Pursue the protection of natural and recreational areas through conservation easements, zoning, public awareness, and other means, so that natural assets do not become vulnerable to expansions in development or utility infrastructure over time.
- Encourage and support, where possible, local organization and citizen-led efforts to improve public recreation opportunities. Recent examples include:
- A new bike trail and greenway, approximately 2.5 miles long, following East Fork Poplar Creek along the Oak Ridge Turnpike, from Illinois Avenue to a point just short of Wiltshire Drive. See image below.
- Evaluate feasibility and implementation of a citizen-led effort to create a new greenway trail in the existing greenbelt east of the Outer Drive/East Drive/California Avenue intersection, with access via the Oak Ridge Land Bank property on California Avenue.
- Engage property owners in pursuing a redevelopment plan to transform under-utilized properties along East Fork Poplar Creek parallel to S. Illinois Avenue, generally between Lafayette Drive and the Turnpike, into a mixed-use neighborhood focused around an enhanced natural waterway. Waterfront development that includes well-connected public space has proven highly successful. A trail along this section of the creek would connect the Rails to Trails Greenway to the Oak Ridge Turnpike and beyond, significantly extending the local network of greenways
- Continue to monitor and update the City’s existing plans and goals for energy use and efficiency (Climate Action Plan) and maintaining healthy urban trees (Urban Forest Management Plan). An update to the Climate Action Plan has previously reported surpassing the 2015 milestone emissions reduction goal, and the City has achieved awards from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a Green Power Community. Both of these City plans include specific recommendations for action.
- Coordinate with the plans and policies of state and federal agencies that manage land within Oak Ridge regarding wildlife habitat and migration paths, natural resources, and land management.
- Ensure new construction uses Low-Impact Design (LID) techniques, which manage stormwater runoff using on-site natural features so that the rate and volume of predevelopment stormwater reaching receiving waters is unchanged. Development in Oak Ridge benefits from conserved natural areas throughout the city that allow natural infiltration; however, paved surfaces on each development site impact the water system and can contribute to flood-related costs in the community. “Green infrastructure” and better site design can simultaneously reduce pollutant loads, conserve natural areas to support native and low-maintenance landscaping, provide energy savings, and increase property values.
- Recommend strategic greenway easements to be included within new residential subdivisions and large nonresidential development as site plans are reviewed by the City.
- Support advancement of the Knox to Oak Ridge Greenway Master Plan, developed in 2015 to link greenway networks in Knox County and Oak Ridge and create a regional asset.
- Develop a program to curb illegal dumping and raise stewardship of natural areas.
big idea: rails to rails
In 2017, the City of Oak Ridge initiated the Rails to Trails project, the adaptive reuse of 4.85 miles of abandoned CSX railroad within the city to create a greenway for pedestrians and bicycles. The project has been awarded, after previous attempts, a Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant administered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) that assists with preliminary studies, design, and acquisition of the right-of-way. Design and acquisition should be completed by mid-year 2020, however, the funding of construction is not yet secured. It is likely that segments of the greenway will need to be completed in phases.
The full greenway will extend from Elza Gate at the Oak Ridge Turnpike, along Belgrade Road, Warehouse Road, Fairbanks Road, and Lafayette Drive across S Illinois Avenue to the Y-12 National Security Complex entrance on Scarboro Road. Aside from creating a safe and secure corridor for cyclists and pedestrians that is accessible from surrounding neighborhoods, the greenway should influence an extended network of connections to other trails and sidewalks in the city, as well as increase nearby commercial business activity.