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Buckle up, folks. Your Insta feeds are about to be littered with pics of bright, sunny faces as far as the eye can see. Nope, we aren’t referencing those sweet first-day-of-school pictures. We’re talking about South Knoxville’s sunflower fields – specifically, the 70-plus acres of sunflowers at Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area.
TBH, these sunflowers are a bit mysterious. They’re here, bursting through the ‘gram one weekend, and pretty much gone the next (okay, it’s a little longer than that, but we’ll talk more about it below). One year you can see them from the parking lot, and the next you need knee-high boots and a sixth sense to find a single field of them. There’s almost no detailed information about them in any media outlet or website, including the state’s Forks on the River Wildlife Management Area site and the city’s Urban Wilderness site for Fork on the River. What’s up, sunflowers?! Good news: we’re here to tell you exactly what’s up with those elusive South Knoxville sunflowers.
You’ve got about 3 weeks to get into the sunflower fields at Forks on the River, starting in early July. Of course, heat, rain and all those mother nature things affect how long the sunflowers last – but if you wait until August to see them, you’re probably going to be out of luck.
And here’s the big catch: Forks on the River only plants the 70 acres of wildflowers every other year. So, if it’s an odd numbered year, you get to frolic in fields and fields of them; but if it’s an even numbered year, there might only be a few acres here and there throughout the 650-acre preserve.
While Google can navigate you pretty easily to the McClure Lane Parking Lot at the start of the greenway that runs through Forks on the River in South Knoxville, it still has the opportunity to be slightly stress inducing – so here are some hacks:
To give you some confidence: There isn’t any signage marking Forks on the River Wildlife Preserve from Island Home Ave. Once you turn onto McClure, you’re going to pass some kind of industrial site on your left. Then it’s going to look like you’re in somebody’s neighborhood for a minute. You’ll pass some signage on your right, and the road gets pretty narrow. For a brief moment, you’ll think New2Knox is plotting to lead you to your death… but when you see the gravel turn on your left, you’re golden.
The Forks on the River Management team rotates the sunflowers every year, so they’re almost never in the same spot as you last saw them. (Don’t worry – they’re not doing this to be tricky.) It’s part of managing soil health and making sure nutrients aren’t depleted through over planting. (This is the reason they only plant the mass of sunflowers every other year as well.)
Here is how you can find the sunflowers in 2021:
Once you park in the parking lot off McClure Lane, hop on the greenway and turn right. You’ll walk about 10 minutes, over a bridge and through a few bends in the road. You’ll get a great view of the river briefly before curving back away from it again. When you see the 2.5 mile marker, you’re there (fear not, it’s not actually 2.5 miles from the parking lot). There’s a tiny break in the tree line to the right which will lead you out to the first field of flowers. If you walk a little further, you can turn onto a more visible gravel path, also on your right, that leads to a field of sunflowers as well.
We hate to break it to you, but the sunflowers aren’t there for the people. They’re actually planted to help feed mourning doves and song birds. Are you going to bother them by taking beautiful pictures surrounded by a sea of yellow petals? Not at all! (If you were, Forks on the River wouldn’t be open to the public.) Just remember—if you take a sunflower home, you’re cutting a dove’s lunch. Rude.
Also, Forks on the River isn’t actually a public park. As the name says, it’s a Wildlife Management Area. It’s only open to the public June through August each year, and it’s home to a LOT of wildlife. Personally, I’ve never been when I haven’t seen at least one snake and been covered in bug bites afterwards. BIG BUT: Don’t let that keep you from going, unless you’re the type to write a hilariously bad review of a natural space.
If you ask us, humidity and bug bites are fully worth the experience of frolicking in fields, soaking in the sunshine, and *literally* stopping to smell the flowers. And if you need some plans for post-floral-adventures, head to the food truck park on the south side or cool off by jumping in the quarry down the street!
Publish date: 14 July.
Images by: Emilie Stooksbury