|June 5, 2014 -
Families once played in the shadow of an oak tree that had graced Lakeshore Park in West Knoxville.
That tree will continue to support family recreation, even after its demise.
The City of Knoxville has donated salvageable pieces of oak wood from the tree to be used in enhancing a playground in the North Ridge Crossing neighborhood.
The ailing tree, in decline for years, was removed earlier this week as a safety measure.
But the tree's sturdy limbs will be used to add natural playscape elements to an existing playground in the North Knoxville neighborhood, including walking logs, an interactive garden and new plants to provide shade. Three- and four-year-olds at the neighborhood's Knoxville-Knox County Head Start preschool program will be enjoying the new elements, beginning in the next few weeks.
Head Start encourages school readiness and overall wellness in low-income families through preschools, family support services, in home-parent training, parent and child socialization groups, free nutritious lunches and other research-based programs.
The North Ridge Crossing playground improvements come after months of planning by Mary Jane Moran, head of the Partners through Playgrounds research project that's funded by a University of Tennessee Outreach and Engagement Grant in support of university-community partnerships.
With the help of UT and community volunteers, Partners through Playgrounds will study how naturalizing hot, urban playscapes might affect children's activity levels and play styles. Other team members on the project include Drs. Dawn Coe and Robyn Brookshire.
"We're hoping this is going to be the beginning of something – transforming other Head Start playgrounds into natural playscapes that enrich children's play and learning lives – and that it'll keep going and going," Moran said. "The life of that tree is going to continue in the lives of these children. And that's just the truth."
Kasey Krouse, the City's Urban Forester, said the 150-year-old tree was removed after a tree-risk assessment showed it was in continuing decline and, if left in place, would pose a significant safety risk.
"We had to cut it down because it was an elevated risk for the city, but fortunately, we're able to donate parts of it to a good cause," Krouse said.