Things at Ijams Nature Center are looking up.
Not that Knoxville’s most beautiful park has been in trouble. But soon, in addition to the outdoor activities featured on trails and water, Ijams will offer a “playground” in the trees.
Projected to open in late June or early July, a Navitat Canopy Adventures-operated zipline challenge course is being set up on a four- to five-acre area just off the greenway near the Ijams visitor center.
“The course will be a combination of ziplines and lots of other challenge elements,” says Abby Burt, Navitat’s branding and marketing leader. “This will have a few ziplines along with a lot of bridge-crossing elements, swings, tunnels and netting features.
“It’s going to be really a playground up in the trees.”
Navitat is a family-owned company based in Asheville, N.C. It opened its first course, Moody Cove Adventure, in 2010, and the Blue Ridge Experience in 2014.
Last year, Mary Thom Adams, Ijams’ development officer and assistant executive director, was driving through Asheville, and a Navitat billboard caught her eye. Soon, Ijams began having talks with Navitat about creating a course in South Knoxville.
“The more we got acquainted, the more we saw that our missions aligned really well,” says Burt. “Yes, we are a commercial enterprise, and yes, there are a lot of different types of companies that call themselves ‘zipline tours.’ We make no bones about it. We know people come to us for the thrill aspect.
“But we say our goal is to thrill, educate and inspire. We have a very strong commitment to the educational, interpretive and inspirational side of being out in the trees. That was a really good fit with Ijams, so we started talking about what can we do here that might be truly different.
“It led us to what we’re calling a tree-based zipline challenge park.”
The thrills will be there, but Navitat is also incorporating environmental art in the installation. South Knoxville-based artist Kelly Brown has been engaged to create artwork at the tree platforms.
“He is just the beginning of our goal to work with local artists to really make this a fantastical wonderland type of installation,” says Burt. “It’s going to be really beautiful.”
There will be six different adventure courses leaving from a centralized, two-tiered, tree-based platform. The courses will be rated by difficulty level, with the two easiest ones open to participants as young as 5. (Ages 5-7 must be accompanied one-to-one by an adult.)
The courses will be self-guided, but Burt says staff members will outfit participants in their gear, provide training in a 30-minute “ground school” before anyone starts on the trail and be accessible to those on the tours. Ben Darnell has been hired as general manager.
Cost will range from $39 to $49 based on age.
“Each trail has about 10 to 12 elements and should take 20 minutes, 30 minutes, depending on your abilities, to conquer,” says Burt. “In total, the ticket price will include two hours of adventure time up in the trees.”
The Navitat courses will operate seven days a week throughout the summer. Fall, winter and spring tours will be available on weekends. Large groups can schedule by appointment any time of year.