Doing Good in the Outdoors: 5 Great Ways to Volunteer in Knoxville

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, at center, and members of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club unveil the Devil’s Racretrack gravity course in south Knoxville.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, at center, and members of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club unveil the Devil’s Racretrack gravity course in south Knoxville. Clay Duda
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The colder months often bring thoughts of pumpkin-spiced everything, holiday gatherings with family and friends, and curling up in front of a warm fire on a snowy afternoon. Ok, maybe there’s not so much snow in the South, though during these wintery times fewer people make for the trails or bike paths in the harsh weather.

Even so, Knoxville’s greenways and outdoor offerings need help and upkeep year-round, and a lot of that effort comes from locals volunteering their time and energy. East Tennessee has a long roster of organizations dedicated to promoting the outdoors, with opportunities to volunteer (both in and out of the cold) throughout the year. As you’re thinking about giving back this holiday season, keep these volunteer opportunities in mind. You’re sure to reap the benefits in the warmer months to come—though hopefully your commitment to the outdoors doesn’t wane with spring blooms.

Appalachian Mountain Bike Club

The AMBC has been a driving force behind Knoxville’s continuing evolution as a mountain biking mecca and overall outdoor destination. A regional chapter of the greater International Mountain Biking Association, AMBC and its volunteers have helped develop trail at Sharp’s Ridge Memorial State Park and elsewhere, and pushed a campaign that beat out other major cities to earn a $100,000 Bell Helmet grant to build the Devil’s Racetrack gravity trail at Baker Creek Preserve. Throughout the year, the nonprofit organization looks for volunteers to take part in trail-building days (no experience required), even during the colder months. It’s a perfect opportunity to help build up a scene, your city, and outdoor playgrounds before spring’s thaw.

City of Knoxville Trail Volunteer

The city of Knoxville, in partnership with other local outdoor nonprofits, has opportunities for volunteers aimed at boosting area trails and greenways with a dash of Southern hospitality. Trail volunteers spend a few hours each month playing ambassador to their favorite city bike paths and walking trails, taking time to greet people, answer questions, and provide assistance when needed. responsible adults of any age and ability are welcomed to apply to this program, which is hosted by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

Ijams Nature Center

A couple walks their two dogs along the Riverwalk Trail at Ijams Nature Center.
    Clay Duda
A couple walks their two dogs along the Riverwalk Trail at Ijams Nature Center. Clay Duda

One of Knoxville’s top outdoors destination is kept up and running, in part, by the army of volunteers that logs thousands of hours each year. From the "unsung heroes" who answer phones and help out behind the scenes, to the down-and-dirty business of maintaining 12 miles of trails through the natural area, Ijams has a host of openings for people looking to give back and contribute to the awesomeness of a favorite local outdoors spot. These include posts as naturalists (leading educational groups and offering information), park maintenance (maintaining trails and other infrastructure), helping out during special events (like the Meadow Lark Music Festival and Horror Movie Nights), and behind the scenes (office work, answering phones, providing info to visitors).

Knoxville Track Club

With more than 2,100 members, KTC is one of the largest nonprofit organizations of its type in the country. Since 1962 the club has grown to support lifelong physical health and exercise, mainly through supporting school track programs, organizing events, and training athletes for regional and national competition—all with the help of a plethora of volunteers. KTC looks for volunteers who can help out with at least five events or more each year, offering tiered rewards and recognition for those willing to put in time and effort. It also partners with other nonprofit and outdoor organizations around town to give back throughout the year.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A park ranger leads a group of kids on a hike along the Little River Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
    Clay Duda
A park ranger leads a group of kids on a hike along the Little River Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Clay Duda

The nation’s most-visited national park is like a city in the woods during peak summer months, and throughout the year the National Park Service looks to volunteers to help keep up the natural beauty and trail maintenance. GSMNP literally has pages of varying volunteer opportunities on both sides of the mountain range, in Tennessee and North Carolina, covering a variety of activities and tasks. Some can even be tackled from home, such as authoring reports as a "report series editor," while others take you into the wild or out onto the trails. RV sites and hookups are made available for folks looking to live in the forest as a “roadside assistance volunteer,” while “water quality data collection” volunteers venture out to waterways bimonthly to collect samples. Most trail maintenance programs operate only during the warmer months, though there are plenty of to-do’s year-round.

Originally written for BCBS of Tennessee.

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