(WBIR - KNOXVILLE) Best-selling author Cheryl Strayed addressed a packed crowd Friday at the 10th annual luncheon for the Legacy Parks Foundation.
The event also produced some exciting news for outdoor enthusiasts and the local tourism industry.
It tells the true story of Strayed's 1,100-mile trek up the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Washington state in 1995, as she processed the grief of losing her mother.
"It's not a kind of sorrow that we ever truly get over," she told WBIR, in an exclusive interview. "We carry it with us, and I think that part of doing that is finding a way to live with joy, even though we do have that loss and that we'll always have that with us as well. And so to really embrace both the sorrow and the beauty of life was very healing to me."
She also discussed the importance of preserving nature for future generations, including for her own children, who are 9 and 11.
"I think that one of the greatest things I could do as a mother is to raise kids who feel brave enough and strong enough to go into the wilderness and have the sort of experience that I had on the Pacific Crest Trail," she said. "I hope that they do that in their lives someday, whether it be that trail or another trail. I think it would be a great experience for them."
It was fitting, then, that at the same luncheon, Legacy Parks Foundation's executive director Carol Evans announced a new trail coming to South Knoxville.
"A three-mile, multi-use trail stretching from Chapman Highway and the Kern's (Bakery) Building all the way into the heart of the Urban Wilderness at Mead's Quarry at Ijams Nature Center," she told the crowd.
It will be called the G&O Trail, for Gulf & Ohio Railways.
The announcement comes as part of a "rails to trails" movement, where defunct railbeds are turned into public trails.
Tennessee Commissioner of Tourist Development Kevin Triplett was at Friday's event and said he expects to see more of this throughout the state in coming years.
"I'm a huge supporter, personally, of Rails to Trails. From a Tourism Department standpoint, we're taking a hard look at it. We've talked with other departments within state government to look at it, because it is land, right now, that currently is not being used that can be used for exercise, for activity, for tourism," he said. "That attracts people. You know, at night you have culinary attractions and live music and things like that, but during the day you can hike, you can get on the river."
Legacy Parks Foundation also announced a 70-acre tract of land it has purchased will be formally donated to the city of Knoxville soon. That will come before City Council for acceptance. The tract is called Armstrong's Hill, part of South Knoxville's Battlefield Loop. More information on that is HERE.
The non-profit organization works to preserve the natural environment for East Tennesseans to enjoy.
Triplett said preservation fosters tourism, which leads to economic development.
"When you have outdoor activities like that, you need bike rental shops, you need bike repair shops, you need sandwich shops and coffee shops and ice cream stands, you know, to get back the calories you just burned off," he said with a smile. "All of those things provide opportunity for tourist development and economic development."
Legacy Parks Foundation also announced plans for additional trails in Oak Ridge, as part of a lease agreement with the US Department of Energy.
Strayed said the non-profit organization's work is important.
"The work they do is close to my heart and such important work not only for people in East Tennessee but for people all over the world," she said. "I think anywhere that we're protecting nature and wild places and green spaces for human use, it serves us all."
In her book, Strayed recounts an arduous hike for which she was sorely under-prepared.
She offers this suggestion for people inspired by her book to hit the trails.
"My first bit of advice is to do it, to go. If you have that impulse to hike a trail, whether it be for an hour or for 100 days like I did, do it," she said, adding a caution. "Readers of 'Wild' will know this: don't take so much stuff. Carry a light pack and make sure your boots fit you well. I often will go hiking in running shoes. That's something I learned when I went on my hike, that you don't always have to have those big boots. So be comfortable."
Ultimately, she said, hiking and exploring nature help teach people about themselves.
"All of those challenges, in the end, can be incredibly nurturing when it comes to not just our bodies but our souls," she said.
Strayed and her husband live with their two children in Portland, Ore. Next week, she will mark exactly 20 years since the end of her transformative three-month, 1,100-mile hike.