Want to exercise like the cavemen did? Head to Ijams!

Enjoying the Primal Playground on Sunday! More fun developments are in store for Ijams Nature Center.

While the pandemic has been devastating for many area businesses and non-profit organizations, it has been a boon for others. Case in point: Ijams Nature Center. In particular, its Primal Playground over in the Mead’s Quarry area.

“The Primal Playground is an outdoor workout space that was heavily used during COVID,” Ijams’ Executive Director Amber Parker told a group of supporters at a special gathering on Sunday. “Green exercise creates a greater level of environmental stewardship. And you work out at a higher intensity level when you are outdoors.”

The Ijams Primal Playground is divided into three sections: Stone, Wood and Boulder Field. Each section provides different elements that can be used in a variety of ways. You can create your own workout or download an existing workout.

Here are some other exciting plans in the future for Ijams, Parker told the supporters:

  • Grayson Subaru Preserve. This new 13.4-acre addition will become a cutting-edge free-play area for children. “Most children don’t get free-play in nature like we used to,” Parker explained. “This area will help people learn how to be in the woods comfortably. Children don’t need plastic play equipment. A tree and a rock are even better.” She said the goal is to have a space that allows parents to give their children a bit more freedom to roam, but with the oversight and safety considerations required by modern parents. Expect a ribbon-cutting in October.
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion. “We are not seeing everybody in our community,” Parker said. So, this fall, with help from the University of Tennessee, Ijams will host a series of round-table meetings with people from all parts of the community. “Letting everybody in Knoxville experience nature is the goal,” she said.
  • Better accessibility for people with disabilities. “Our accessibility stinks and we know it,” Parker acknowledged. “We are working on that.”

A lizard on a log in the Primal Playground.

The vision of Ijams is that through direct experience with the outdoors, all people will appreciate and care for the natural world. To that end, residents and visitors can hike, bike, climb, play, swim, paddle and exercise in a 315-acre natural gem that is free and open from 8 a.m. until dusk. The visitor center, where you can purchase snacks, maps and gift items, is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. River Sports Outfitters, where you can rent bikes, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards, or enjoy a beverage in the beer garden, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

According to its latest annual report, which was for 2019, Ijams Nature Center hosted 160,000 visitors that year. They were from 50 states and 25 countries. Ijams is located just 3 miles from downtown Knoxville.

Ijams Executive Director Amber Parker, left, and Visitor Services Manager Sarah Brobst welcomed everyone.

Sunday’s special guests enjoyed treats in the outdoor classroom near the parking lot for Mead’s Quarry.


Executive Director Amber Parker brought herbs from her garden to create centerpieces.

It was great seeing Beth and Bo Townsend. He’s the former executive director of Ijams. Now he’s a board member and volunteer there.

Lynne Davis waits for the program to begin.

From left, Chuck and Sue Fullgraf with Gayle Burnett.

George Kern and his daughter, Anna Kern. They are relatives of the Ijams family, the original owners of the property.

When talk turned to the cicadas, which are just now emerging at Ijams, board member Jim Holleman went to a nearby bush and grabbed one!

There she is! (He returned her to the bush after the photo was made!)

View from the overlook at the River Sports concessions area. Swimmers are gathered on that dock across the way.

We passed some bluegrass jammers on the way to tour the Primal Playground. There’s a snippet of their music at the end of this post.

A few Februarys ago, this big pink boulder came tumbling down onto the path. The Ijams folks decided to leave it there!

The Wood section of Primal Playground.

This tree came down in South Knoxville. Amber Parker talked someone into hauling it to Ijams in exchange for a 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer!

Amber demonstrates how to use a “Conan Wheel” — named after “Conan the Barbarian.” You lift it and push it around in a circle.

Boulders to climb.

Rocks to lift.

Amber Parker demonstrates.

A family explores Primal Playground.

Another structure to climb.

A view of the quarry from a different vantage point.

The water’s depth is uneven and jumping and diving are strictly prohibited due to the danger. Still, we saw this young man make the sign of the cross and jump!

Here’s a sample of that bluegrass:



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7 Responses to Want to exercise like the cavemen did? Head to Ijams!

  1. Cindy Hassil, on May 18th, 2021 at 4:18 pm said:

    So happy you and Alan could join the festivities on Sunday! Thanks for showcasing all the fun stuff going on at Mead’s Quarry. There’s a lot happening there and at the Visitor Center this year. Ijams is kicking off Big Fun Tuesdays with the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club tonight from 6-9 (food trucks, free live music, mountain biking and more). The Young Fables perform Friday on the Visitor Center lawn and there are lots of OUTDOOR education programs. Whew. Hope to see you again soon, and thanks again for coming!

  2. Cynthia Moxley, on May 18th, 2021 at 4:22 pm said:

    Wow, CIndy! That all sounds like big fun!!

  3. Lori Chmielewski, on May 18th, 2021 at 4:27 pm said:

    So enjoyable! I especially liked hearing/seeing the bluegrass special at the end. I am so glad the Streak is back streaking!

  4. Karyn Holbrook, on May 18th, 2021 at 4:29 pm said:

    I love Ijams and this is an excellent piece on all the wonderful areas that are available. It’s great that they are looking at ways to be more diverse and inclusive. Well done, Blue Streak. I’m so happy to have you’re back!

  5. Alan Carmichael, on May 18th, 2021 at 4:41 pm said:

    This event also had vendors with art, etc., over at the Visitor Center. We didn’t get back from the quarry in time for photos.

  6. Cynthia Moxley, on May 18th, 2021 at 6:22 pm said:

    Lori: I would like to go back to hear more bluegrass there. They do it from 3 to 6 every 3rd Sunday.

    Karyn: I also appreciate their efforts in those areas.

  7. Alice Mercer, on May 21st, 2021 at 7:36 am said:

    Thanks, Cynthia — I enjoyed learning more about Ijams and its increasing number of fun activities!

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