Urban Wilderness Gateway

Urban Wilderness Gateway | Seth Dortch

Hidden in Knoxville’s backcountry lies a landscape worthy of exploring

If weekend traffic is any indication, Knoxville’s investment in the Urban Wilderness Gateway Park proved a success. Build it and they will come, indeed. Bikers from all over the country gather to disappear on the famous South Loop that takes them through four pocket wilderness areas.

Expect some strange sights in Knoxville’s backcountry.  A boat on dry land and a bus sawed in half are part of the landscape here. When I saddle up on the mountain bike, these are just common waypoints. It used to be that a 12-mile lap from Baker Creek through William Hastie Natural Area, Forks of the River, and Ijams was enough to check my cardio box for the day. However, these Fellini-esque objets d’art are what make this truly a South Knoxville ride.

Urban Wilderness Gateway | Seth Dortch

On the rare days of no rain, I have learned to veer right after passing Anderson School. Huge hardwoods flank hollers that see little traffic when the skies are blue. This part of the Urban Wilderness is called Trans Farm, and we locals bomb that back section with reckless abandon. Watch out, though. Deceptively smooth and cruisy appearing, there are big dips with creeks to slow you down or go head-over.

It’s kind of difficult to find at first, which lends to the appeal. Pass a little lending library (you heard me correctly), turn right and parallel a branch of Burnett Creek. Then jump it. Dodge brambles and briars in the warm months and keep an eye out for Cujo, a dog that sometimes escapes his fence. These are the landmines we willingly suffer to have something to ourselves. Persevere and your reward is single track with all the speed you are willing to pedal.

There’s only one thing left to do before saying goodbye to trails with names like Chain Ring and AC/DC. Gingerly I lift the glass case propped up here in the woods, the envy of any school kid pried from a joystick. This lending library needs an old, retired hardcopy of Captains Courageous, rescued from obscurity in my basement. I think Kipling would have approved.  

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