Knox County will soon be home to a new state park, but it's a place that's been preserved for some time.
Governor Bill Haslam officially announced the state of Tennessee would take control of Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge and make it Tennessee's 56th state park by July 2014. The 360-acre property sits next to the French Broad River in East Knox County.
Plans to transfer Seven Islands from Knox County to the state of Tennessee have been in the works for little over a year. Local group Legacy Parks said they believe Friday's state park designation will build upon Knox County's growing reputation as an outdoors destination.
"This is just another reason that people will be looking at Knox County," said Legacy Parks Executive Director Carol Evans.
About a decade ago, locals Pete and Linda Claussen first set out to save Seven Islands from encroaching subdivisions. They said they're happy to see Seven Islands become a state park.
"After all the work that was put in, it turned into something the state was interested in," Claussen said.
Over 180 different species of birds have been found at Seven Islands. The state said the park would also introduce the area to a different type of tourism opportunity: birding.
"It is very special," said Brock Hill, the deputy commissioner for Parks and Conservation with TDEC. "It's the first state birding park in Tennessee. Birding is big business."
Seven Islands will now also be home to Knox County's only state park, but that wasn't the only big news for the area. Governor Bill Haslam also announced TDEC would give Legacy Parks a $200,000 grant to expand trails in South Knoxville's Urban Wilderness.