Knoxville's mayoral hopefuls met with the community in South Knoxville to discuss issues ahead of the upcoming primaries and election.
The mayoral primary elections are on Aug. 27 and the general election takes place Nov. 5.
One of the key focal points Monday was South Knoxville's Urban Wilderness, which has grown into what many consider a 'crown gem' of Knoxville and a focal point for growth in development in the city.
The Urban Wilderness encompasses 50 miles of trails and greenways -- including Ijams Nature Center, Baker Creek Preserve and Forks of Wilderness WMA, where nearly all forms of outdoor recreation can take place, from hiking, biking, climbing, paddling, fishing and hunting.
The growth of the Urban Wilderness has been credited for leading to recent rapid growth in South Knoxville.
In 2018, Mayor Madeline Rogero proposed a $10 million investment to create a gateway park and 'entrance' to South Knoxville at the southern end of the James White Parkway.
While the Urban Wilderness Gateway project has seen wide support, for years many have petitioned the city to prioritize the expansion of James White Parkway as a means of alleviating traffic on Chapman Highway to make it safer to drive.
Such an expansion would no doubt need to run through the Urban Wilderness, and the city has remained firm -- opting to support improvements to Chapman Highway itself rather than extending the parkway.
With these issues in mind, we asked Knoxville's six candidates for mayor what their stances are on the Urban Wilderness.
"If elected, are you in favor of the expansion of the Urban Wilderness in South Knoxville?"
►Michael Andrews: In favor of its growth, but also would like to expand James White Parkway through the wilderness in order to alleviate traffic on Chapman Highway.
"I would like to expand it, but also expand James White Parkway to take try to away a little traffic off Chapman Highway. For years, Chapman Highway has been a dangerous highway. If we sat down and work together, I feel like we could work toward a solution to achieve both."
►Fletcher Burkhardt: Said he loves the Urban Wilderness and believes the community would like to see it further expanded as to market it and bring new people to the city.
"I honestly think the park is there, and the money has been invested and it's something that we can really use to market our city and bring people in. One of the greatest things about Knoxville is that we have a downtown, we have a city life, but five minutes in any direction you can be in the woods, experience nature... you can feel one with the world, and I think that's something unique about our city."
►Indya Kincannon: Supports the growth of Urban Wilderness, said she would fully support its growth with the Urban Wilderness Gateway plan.
"I think the Urban Wilderness is one of the best things to happen to Knoxville in generations., so I'm all in favor of protecting it and making it a healthy place for all Knoxvillians and accessible, and also an economic engine for development in South Knoxville and other parts of town, too.
►Eddie Mannis: Total support, would work with Legacy Parks and thinks the city needs to find better ways to market it inside and outside Knoxville.
"I think the Urban Wilderness is one of the gems that we truly have... one of the prize assets of our community. I've always been in favor of the Urban Wilderness and what Legacy Parks has going on."
►Calvin Skinner: In favor of expansion.
"I'm absolutely in favor. Also, if we think about creative ways to include all communities, one way is to create an edible garden for all to participate and take advantage of the produce that may come of it."
►Marshall Stair: Supports its growth, saying building upon that growth would be something he'd do as mayor to recruit more talent to the city.
"I feel like the Urban Wilderness has really changed the dynamic here in South Knoxville. We're seeing more residents, more businesses. I think it really has changed South Knoxville into a more outdoor destination. I think it's good for South Knoxville and Knoxville on a whole."