Questions remain about Knox County's first water trail project

Questions remain about Knox County's first water trail project

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Heath Haun is a local paddler and Knox County's stormwater construction inspector supervisor. One of his jobs is enforcing the Clean Water Act and mapping area waterways. Heath Haun is a local paddler and Knox County's stormwater construction inspector supervisor. One of his jobs is enforcing the Clean Water Act and mapping area waterways.
"We spoke to a couple of farmers while we were doing our mapping, and they talked about growing up. They used to canoe and they used to see families out there. We just thought it would be neat to see people back out there again," said Heath Haun. "We spoke to a couple of farmers while we were doing our mapping, and they talked about growing up. They used to canoe and they used to see families out there. We just thought it would be neat to see people back out there again," said Heath Haun.
The creek flows in and out through several neighborhoods.  Many homeowners still have concerns about what this really means for the future of their quiet neighborhoods. The creek flows in and out through several neighborhoods. Many homeowners still have concerns about what this really means for the future of their quiet neighborhoods.
Neighbor Bill Chilcoat thinks cleaning the creek is a good idea, but said he's worried that people will abuse his property. Neighbor Bill Chilcoat thinks cleaning the creek is a good idea, but said he's worried that people will abuse his property.

By KRISTIN FARLEY
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Knox County is hoping to move forward with its first water trail project, initially called a blueway during a public meeting in July. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the project, and if people are really on board with taking a creek, literally in their backyards, and encouraging public recreation.

Knox County is proposing turning a 38 mile stretch of Beaver Creek into a water trail, in essence, adding access points on public land and then clearing the waterway for recreational use.

The creek flows in and out through several neighborhoods.  Many homeowners still have concerns about what this really means for the future of their quiet neighborhoods.

Canopies of trees shelter the slow moving waters of Beaver Creek in the Karns area. Some might see this as a picturesque retreat, but for others this is this is their backyard.

Heath Haun is a local paddler and Knox County's stormwater construction inspector supervisor. One of his jobs is enforcing the Clean Water Act and mapping area waterways.

He says when he was mapping Beaver Creek, he saw much more than a creek trying to overcome a checkered past of pollution.

"We spoke to a couple of farmers while we were doing our mapping, and they talked about growing up. They used to canoe and they used to see families out there. We just thought it would be neat to see people back out there again," said Haun.

After months of casual discussions, the county began to hammer out a more serious proposal, and in July, they presented their ideas at a public meeting.

At the time, the county called this the Beaver Creek Blueway. The plan includes a "put-in" and "take-out" point, work to clear debris jams, and the goal of ultimately improving water quality.

Haun stresses he hopes all of this will lead to more recreational use, but not at the expense of those who live along its banks.

"We are not changing any land rights or giving anybody any access they don't already have," Haun said. "The only thing we are doing is trying to provide safer passage. We are trying to provide access points on Knox County-owned property so people don't trespass."

Bill Chilcoat owns almost an acre of land in Bonnyville Estates. His property goes right up to the creek, where he loves to go fishing.    

"I've always wanted to live on Beaver Creek. I rented for a while, then this place came available," said Chilcoat.

He thinks cleaning the creek is a good idea, but said he's worried that people will abuse his property.

"It would be trash coming up when you're not home, and taking things that is not theirs,...and their language," he said.

Neighbor Melea Smith says she's okay with the project if it brings more attention to cleaning up the creek and preserving it's natural habitat.

"We saw muskrats recently, and the beavers, and some otters, and bird wildlife, great blue heron," said Smith.

She says the need to clear away debris and create easier access to Beaver Creek was apparent when she tried to paddle the waterway just a few weeks ago.

"We thought we could get out any time we wanted to, and we could not," Smith said.

Off camera, we heard more mixed reaction including some homeowners in Painter Farms who told us they were concerned about a drop in property values. The county, however, sees this as a positive and hopes to clear up not just the water, but also the confusion.

"It is different than what you would typically see. It's kind of smaller. This is a more intimate-type setting. You get out with local community. We think it's something people will be proud of. Most of the blueways system are much larger bodies of water - the Tennessee River and such."

Many people 6 News spoke to off camera were skeptical this program would ever get off the ground. They say there have been countless delays with the county's Stormwater Demonstration Park.

The county reassured 6 News that park is moving forward. It's on the land between Bonnyville Estates and Painter Farms subdivision.They say the new river access will be a part of that park.

Funding for the water trail is coming from existing budgets, and they hope maintenance will be shared by parks and rec, stormwater management and those who will hopefully be enjoying the creek.


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