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BlueCross Healthy Place will begin a new chapter for Morningside Park in Knoxville

Key Takeaways

  • The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation is investing $5.5 million to create a BlueCross Healthy Place at Morningside Park in Knoxville.
  • This is the first BlueCross Healthy Place in the Knoxville area.
  • The Legacy Parks Foundation applied for the grant on behalf of the City of Knoxville, and the BlueCross Foundation is supporting the project in partnership with the city.

If you visit East Knoxville, you can’t miss the area’s historic significance. Long a center of African-American community and culture, which is commemorated at the neighborhood’s Beck Cultural Exchange Center, it’s also home to historic architecture, including the Civil-War era Mabry-Hazen House.

Today, East Knoxville is home to residents of all walks that celebrate its unique past. While urban renewal efforts in the 1950s displaced African-American residents and businesses, many families still proudly call the area home. Over the years, the neighborhood has seen the addition of a University of Tennessee student housing complex and Isabella Towers, a residential complex for seniors and people with disabilities, truly making it a diverse enclave near downtown.

And in the center of East Knoxville is Morningside Park, a 36-acre, tree-lined space with a disc golf course, two playgrounds, a greenway and Alex Haley Heritage Square – a tribute to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Roots.

Alex Haley Heritage Square at Morningside Park – Photo Credit: City of Knoxville

Soon, this park will also be home to a BlueCross Healthy Place – beginning an exciting new chapter for the beloved community space.

A perfect fit

The Legacy Parks Foundation works to preserve natural resources and expand recreational opportunities in East Tennessee. When advisory board member Susan R. Williams found out about the BlueCross Healthy Place program, she encouraged the organization to apply for a grant on behalf of the City of Knoxville.

And according to Carol Evans, the foundation’s executive director, Morningside Park was a logical choice for a BlueCross Healthy Place. “Legacy Parks had been working on adaptive bike trails in Knoxville and learned about the need for more inclusive parks and trails in the area. We knew that the BlueCross Healthy Place program, with its emphasis on inclusivity, community connection and healthy activity, was the perfect fit,” she says.

“We also felt that Morningside Park was a hidden gem in the heart of the city and that a BlueCross Healthy Place would take advantage of its incredible natural features while bringing the type of inclusive amenities that truly create a place for all.”

For the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation, the feeling was mutual. “When our team received the proposal for a BlueCross Healthy Place at Morningside Park, we were impressed and inspired by the diverse groups of residents the space will serve,” says Roy Vaughn, executive director of the BlueCross Foundation.

Improved access to healthy activities

A map of the new BlueCross Healthy Place

BlueCross Healthy Places are about bringing communities together, and one way they do that is by improving access to healthy activity.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people living in the areas surrounding Morningside Park have high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure,” says Sheryl Ely, parks and recreation director for the City of Knoxville.

“Our goal is to offer a holistic approach to better health by providing opportunities to increase physical activity and enjoy nature while also allowing for more community connections and engagement.”

The BlueCross Foundation is investing $4.6 million in the project build and an additional $920,000 in a maintenance fund , bringing the total investment in Morningside Park to $5,520,000.

When it’s complete, the BlueCross Healthy Place will have something for all residents of East Knoxville to enjoy. Amenities will include:

  • Multipurpose field with bleachers
  • Accessible playgrounds for children ages 2-5 and 5-12
  • Challenge course
  • 40-yard dash
  • Fitness area
  • Walking trail
  • Two community pavilions
  • Restrooms
  • Accessible parking
A portion of Morningside Park that will house the future BlueCross Healthy Place

“We hope these features will allow more people to continue being or become more physically active and focus on their mental health while enjoying the natural beauty of the park.” Sheryl adds.

Looking ahead

These new amenities will provide significant upgrades to existing portions of the park, and they will play an important role in making it more attractive and welcoming to families, groups and residents of all ages.

And Sheryl has a clear vision of how the community will utilize the revitalized space.

“The fitness areas are critical to the neighborhood, especially the senior citizens and residents with mobility issues who live in Isabella Towers,” she says.

The challenge course will be the first of its kind in a public park in the area , and the multipurpose field will provide a place for events the entire community can enjoy – from sports games to festivals.

She and the team at the Legacy Parks Foundation are hopeful that the BlueCross Healthy Place will draw more people to Morningside Park, leading to a stronger sense of community. And while she’s looking toward the future, Sheryl also hopes the new space will foster an appreciation of the area’s past.

“We hope that as more people visit the park, they’ll learn about the rich history of African-American businesses and community leaders from East Knoxville that helped shape our city.”

Hear what Knoxville City mayor, Indya Kincannon and BlueCross director of community relations, Chelsea Johnson, had to say about the project.

About Amanda Haskew, Senior Communications Specialist

A photo of the authorAmanda joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2017. Born and raised in Chattanooga, she has a decade of experience in writing for print and the web, as well as digital marketing.

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