Knox County wildlife sanctuary to become newest state park

A 400-acre wildlife sanctuary along the French Broad River in southeast Knox County is on track to become Tennessee’s newest state park, reports the News Sentinel.

On Monday the Knox County commission will consider a resolution to transfer the Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge to the state of Tennessee. The commission is expected to approve the resolution at its next regular meeting on Sept. 23.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to announce the land transfer on Sept. 20 at a luncheon at the Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge hosted by the Legacy Parks Foundation, the nonprofit land trust that manages the refuge.

“The governor will have exciting things to say about the site and its future,” confirmed Tisha Calabrese-Benton, assistant commissioner for external affairs for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Located on a peninsula on the French Broad River, the Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge features eight miles of trails bush-hogged through a patchwork of river bottom fields that provide food and cover for quail and songbirds. Wildlife-friendly native grasses such as indiangrass, big bluestem and eastern gamagrass are grown on the property, and over the years more than 14,000 trees have been planted to help stabilize the river banks.

In 2001 the bulk of the property was donated to Knox County by the Seven Islands Foundation, a nonprofit land conservancy. In addition to hikers and birdwatchers, the refuge is important to biologists who study the habitat needs and migration patterns of grassland bird species.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said the transfer of Seven Islands from Knox County to the state of Tennessee will help secure the property for future generations.

“The state has a good track record on running its parks,” Burchett said. “They’ll invest in the property and make improvements. We just don’t have the money to showcase Seven Islands like it could be.”