KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — If you've hiked near the quarry at Ijams Nature Center at all this year, you might have noticed several recycled Christmas trees lining a barren hillside. 

They're forming catch basins to help with erosion. 

"The idea was that as the Christmas trees decompose, they will add some acidity to the soil. As the water runs through them, they will catch some of that," said Megan Greer, a conservation steward working at Ijams during her AmeriCorps term. "Eventually, hopefully, this entire hillside will be covered with some kind of life instead of this barren area. That could take years." 

This section of the park was formally a dump site for the quarry. 

"It's been an eyesore and problem spot for us in management, trying to figure out what can grow here. It was supporting some nonnative invasive plans, a few cedars, and a few other plants more commonly found in West Tennessee. We wanted to create a new ecosystem that we don't really have at Ijams to see what could thrive in these situations," said grounds manager Ben Nanny.

The situations he's referring to are the high amounts of lime in the soil left over from when the quarry was operational. The plants that do manage to grow in the area are often short and scrawny. 

Below ground, Nanny says the conditions are resulting in an increase in mortality among the endangered Berry Cave Salamanders. 

To help restore the area to its natural state, Ijams Nature Center received two grants. 

A $6,500 grant from the Wildlife Preservation Fund of East Tennessee Foundation to build the catch basins, a cedar fence around the area, help replant various trees in the area to see what will grow and more. 

They also received a $2,100 grant from Tennessee River Healthy Watershed to cover the cost of compost, mulch, seed mix and signage to help direct people around the area.