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A young girl climbs on top of wooden logs in Knoxville's Urban Wilderness. (photo courtesy of Visit Knoxville.)

A new study by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Center for Energy, Transportation, and Environmental Policy, part of the Baker School of Public Policy and Public Affairs, estimates that the Knoxville Urban Wilderness generates $24.9 million annually for Knox County’s economy.

Associate Professor Eugene Fitzhugh and doctoral student Douglas Gregory of UT’s Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies used trail counter data and a survey of 1,166 visitors to the Knoxville Urban Wilderness to show that 303,782 users visited the KUW in 2021. Lead author Alecia Evans, CETEP postdoctoral research fellow, used those visitor estimates to show that the trail system generated $24.9 million for Knox County’s economy through direct and indirect spending in the course of the year.

The new calculations update the findings of the Economic Potential of South Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness report released in 2015 by Charles Sims, TVA Distinguished Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy and CETEP director.

The Value of Recreation at the Knoxville Urban Wilderness

Visitor spending isn’t the only way the Knoxville Urban Wilderness generates economic benefits. It is adjacent to the heart of Knoxville and provides extensive recreational activities, including mountain biking, trail running, and hiking, which were shown to be the most popular activities by surveyed visitors.

The new study was able to capture the recreation value that individuals would be willing to pay for those activities if they were not available for free at the Knoxville Urban Wilderness. Using the onsite survey and revealed preference methods, the study found that the KUW trail system provided an additional $7 million annually in recreational benefits —approximately $23 per individual trip — an amount that was not included in direct and indirect spending.



Patricia Contic (865-974-3869

Cindi King (865-974-0937,