South Woodlawn Becomes First NWF Community Wildlife Habitat in Tennessee

The City of Knoxville, Tennessee, has a mounting reputation for being a top destination for outdoor recreation. Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians Mountains, it’s just about 45 minutes from Smokey Mountain National Park and the Appalachian Trail.

But to think of Knoxville as simply a “jumping off point” would be shortsighted.  Through the work of the city, the county, elected officials and community-based organizations, there are amazing green initiatives everywhere you look.

South Woodwawn Community Wildlife Habitat Celebration Event
South Woodwawn Community Wildlife Habitat Celebration Event
The 1,000-acre Knoxville Urban Wilderness, championed by Legacy Parks Foundation, is a partnership with Ijams Nature Center, Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the City and County of Knoxville. Together, they are developing the 1,000-acre Urban Wilderness, that when completed, will connect ten parks, feature over forty miles of recreational trails, four civil war sites, and diverse ecological features and recreational amenities.  This combined with the City’s Greenways Program means local residents don’t have to go far for outdoor recreation or to see wildlife.

I traveled to Knoxville this weekend to celebrate yet another green milestone for the city.  The neighborhood of South Woodlawn, about 2 miles South of Knoxville, became the 1st Certified National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat in Knoxville and the 1st in the entire state of Tennessee (75th in the nation).

This weekend, the team celebrated their communities’ accomplishment at Stanley’s Greenhouses, a 78 year old neighborhood institution and small business where many families purchased their native plants for their backyard habitats.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero Speaks to the South Knoxville Crowd at Stanley's Greenhouse
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero Speaks to the South Knoxville Crowd at Stanley’s Greenhouse
Many distinguished guests congratulated the South Woodlawn Team Leaders and spoke to the many benefits the program brought for the community and for wildlife.  These guests included: Mayor Madeline Rogero, City of Knoxville Mayor; Tim Burchett, Knox County Mayor; Nick Pavlis, Vice Mayor & 1st District Council Representative; Cameron Mitchell, Tennessee Wildlife FederationMayor Rogero even brought a jar of organic honey from her very own backyard beehive as a door prize for the crowd.

After the event, the team leaders from South Woodlawn took my colleagues with the Tennessee Wildlife Federation and me on a tour of the neighborhood.   It’s was 80 degrees, sunny, and everything was in bloom.  We got to see many of the more than 50+ homes, schools, businesses, parks and places of worship that they certified in the last several months.

And not surprisingly, we saw wildlife everywhere, especially the birds, butterflies and small mammals.  It’s not a surprise because research shows that the steps people take to certify their properties with NWF – (provide food, water, shelter and places to raise young) – work.  More wildlife are showing up in certified properties.  It was evident in South Woodlawn.

South Doyle Middle School NWF Schoolyard Habitat & Amphitheater
South Doyle Middle School NWF Schoolyard Habitat & Amphitheater
The highlight of our tour was the new outdoor classroom that was certified as NWF Schoolyard Habitat at South Doyle Middle School.  The Community Wildlife Habitat team successfully wrote a $30,000 grant and hired a local contractor who helped match that grant with contributions from local businesses.  In the end, they restored a stream bed, replanted native plants, created a learning environment for the students and built a small amphitheater for students to learn outdoors.  Amazing!

At the end of the day, the NWF Community Wildlife Habitat program has brought the South Woodlawn community together in new ways that they didn’t expect when they started.  The project at South Doyle Middle schools was not in the original plans.  And now they are getting calls from other neighborhoods in Knoxville, interested in learning more.  Maybe this will catch on in other Knoxville neighborhoods and communities?  Perhaps the entire city will want to take on the challenge?

Wherever you live, I hope you will learn more about NWF’s Garden for Wildlife programs and if  you think your community might be ready to take part in NWF’s Community Wildlife Habitats, please let us know…