Newest Tennessee state park opens in Kodak

Jul. 03, 2014 @ 01:10 PM

Some of the best singers in the area turned out for the Tuesday opening Seven Islands State Birding Park, and, though they were talented too, it wasn't the musicians tasked with entertaining the crowd.

Songbirds sang sweetly throughout the morning presentation, an ever-present reminder of the land's primary residents and the reason the 360-acre wildlife sancuatry is Tennessee's newest state park, just minutes outside of Sevier County.

"Today we're here to celebrate the newest addition to the state park system, and I'm proud that Knox County could be a part of it," Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said. "For years Knox County maintained this property as a wildlife preserve, and now it becomes the first-ever state birding park. 

"Signs … on the interstate are already there to point the way, and I hope that people all across the state and across this great nation of ours will come here to enjoy this great park and all the wildlife that will be preserved here."

Seven Islands State Birding Park becomes Tennessee's 56th state park, and the first dedicated to birding.

"Welcome to Seven Islands, where you can see birds from A to Y," Pete Claussen, the landowner who donated two-thirds of the land where the park sits to the county to help establish the refuge. "(From) the American Avocet … first sighted here only a couple of months ago ... (to) the yellow warbler."

“I am excited to welcome Seven Islands State Birding Park to our Tennessee State Parks system,” Tennessee State Parks Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill said. “This park is a great addition and will offer wonderful viewing opportunities for birding enthusiasts and families alike.

"We haven't had a new state park in a long, long time. We probably need to thank our Gov. (Bill) Haslam for re-emphasizing state parks in Tennessee."

Carol Evans, of the Legacy Park Foundation, which had a hand in the formation of the new state park, said it took a lot of work to get to Tuesday's opening.

"This has been a different project," Evans said. "It's looking at land differently. It's not a typical park, and it's never been a typical park.

"And so, it's taken a lot of collaboration to make it what it is here today, and it truly is a model for everything we've done in terms of habitat management and the kind of outdoor experience you can have in natural areas."

The park offers activities including observation, hiking and a small boat launch for canoes and kayaks, officials said.

The property, adjacent to the French Broad River, is home to varied aquatic and riparian habitats which support a diversity of wildlife species — including over 160 species of birds that have been identified.

Before becoming the newest Tennessee State Park, Seven Islands was a wildlife refuge managed by the Seven Islands Foundation and Knox County Parks and Recreation.

The county transferred the 360-acre property to the state, and Tennessee State Parks began management of the site on July 1, officials said.