If you take the time to exit the interstates, you’ll find a recreational wonderland in Oak Ridge.
Just a short drive from I-75 and I-40, Oak Ridge is home to 16 parks, two golf courses, miles of greenway natural trails and more than 1,300 acres of greenbelts, on which the land is maintained in its natural state.
“Most of my mornings are spent on the Melton Hill Greenway running or riding my bike. There are very few moments that can beat a sunrise there,” says Brad Spears, who is the owner of PEAK Mountain Sports. “As a family, we enjoy hiking and mountain biking in Haw Ridge Park and we also enjoy the North Boundary Greenway.
Many people share that special connection with Haw Ridge, a 780-acre wilderness area running along the shore of Melton Hill Lake and featuring trails and canoeing opportunities. The park, named for the Haw bush, is supported by the Friends of Haw Ridge volunteers.
Activities for All Ages
“Each park is unique,” says Jon Hetrick, Oak Ridge’s Recreation and Parks director.
Ballfields, indoor courts and numerous sports leagues for all ages are scattered throughout the system. Cedar Hill Park, a community-built playground, is popular with the younger generation, while Big Turtle features a playground, dog park, and soccer and softball fields. Carl Yearwood Park and Groves Park both have disc golf courses. The city also offers a senior center, an outdoor spring-fed swimming pool and an indoor pool in the Oak Ridge Civic Center. Melton Lake Park/Greenway has a picnic pavilion, trails, a rowing venue and equipment rentals. Boating and fishing also are available at Solway Park.
“Outdoor recreation is a great draw for people of all ages, providing an opportunity to stay physically fit while enjoying the natural beauty of East Tennessee,” Hetrick says.
A Growing System
The park system is expanding along with park construction in neighborhoods. Hetrick says 2015 saw the installation of a shade structure at the dog park, the establishment of a dodgeball league and the planned addition of an eighth lane to the rowing venue. On the horizon is a possible rails-to-trails project on the CSX rail line through town. Local families are responding enthusiastically to all the choices.
“We’re an active family that uses the local parks a lot,” says Nicole Cagley, who was raised in Oak Ridge and lives here with her husband, Josh, and their children, Mason and Emma. “We visit the parks for everything from birthday parties to soccer and baseball, adult softball leagues and, on slow days, it’s just a fun activity for the kids.”
Hetrick says Oak Ridge’s large number of recreational opportunities per capita inspires many people to relocate here.
“Not only does this lifestyle teach our child to value our environment, but it also keeps our family healthy, active and engaged with each other,” Brad Spears says. “Oak Ridge’s outdoor recreational opportunities aren’t just affecting my family’s quality of life, they are instilling values in my son that will one day affect his family’s quality of life.”