The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

That ain’t country: Activists protest proposed downtown tree removal in Knoxville

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KNOXVILLE — People assembled at 6 p.m. Aug. 19 to speak for the trees threatened by development of an art installment at the half-acre Cradle of Country Music Park at the corner of Gay Street and Summit Hill Drive downtown.

The Harvey Broome Chapter of the Sierra Club organized the protest against the removal of five mature oak trees to make way for the sculpture and its base, which was originally commissioned to a New York City artist in 2018 and will cost the city $600,000, according to reporting from Compass. The online news outlet also reported Friday that Councilwoman Seema Singh has requested a pause in the project to determine whether there are alternatives to removing the trees.

“While five trees will be removed, 12 are being preserved, and nine new trees are being planted. It is a net gain of four trees. Over time, as the new trees mature, there will be more canopy than exists now,” city spokesman Eric Vreeland told Hellbender Press.

The project was commissioned under former Mayor Madeline Rogero, who was quoted at the time in a city government blog post as saying: “We’ve been increasing our collection of public art in recent years — both in terms of quantity and quality. The Public Art Committee has done a great job in commissioning a wide variety of intellectually-stimulating murals, sculptures, painted stairs, metal relief and other pieces. And now, this latest project will completely transform a small underused pocket park into a dynamic downtown focal point.”

Knoxville’s influence on the nascent country music scene is described in a walking tour offered by Visit Knoxville that highlights the city’s connections to country stars such as Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, and the Everly Brothers.

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