For many area commuters, Stringer’s Ridge is the tunnel they pass through to and from work each day. But to Chattanooga area preservationists, it’s a feature unique to the city-a 100 acre forest minutes from 50,000 people.
“(Chattanooga) has something unique, I’ve not seen anything like this any where else,” Jim Johnson, a local conservationist, said. “It’s an urban forest, virtually untouched, within three miles of 50,000 residents.”
An avid bicyclist, Johnson recently donated $50,000 to fund plans for a 10-mile trail system for the 100-acre site that runs along Highway 27, toward Moccasin Bend, crossing over Cherokee Boulevard and into the city of Red Bank.
Johnson’s gift was used to solicit other contributions from local foundations, which will fund the master plan, said Rick Wood, director of the Trust for Public Land, the nonprofit that paid $2.4 million for the property in 2008. Phase two of the master plan, which is not complete, is the trail system for mountain biking, walking and running.
“His gift really helped us leverage other funds from Lyndhurst and Benwood (foundations) that will help implement the master plan,” Wood said. “We will build a trail head, where people park to get to the trails. There will be a sign saying ‘You are here,’ and maps of the trails.”
The location for the trail head isn’t fixed but the spot under consideration is located near Nikki’s Restaurant on Cherokee Boulevard. The potential site is behind a quaint brick building up against the ridge that has held a law office and other commercial enterprises, Wood said.
Stringer’s Ridge is also part of the Gateway to Moccasin Bend plan-a connection through walking or biking paths between the ridge and the planned Moccasin Bend Archeological District. The Chattanooga Regional Planning Agency is coordinating that effort.
Johnson, president of overseas bike tour company BikeToursDirect.com, moved to Chattanooga from New England in 1997. He made his first donation to the Trust for Public Land two years ago. That $50 grew into $50,000 when he saw what the trust wanted to do with Stringer’s Ridge.
“I went to an annual fund raising and someone mentioned that the TPL had just aquired this property but they were at stumbling block,” Johnson said. “The rules were they had to give it to someone else, they couldn’t keep it. And it had to be in a condition that another agency would take it.”
As the former president of the Chattanooga Bicycle club, he was familiar with how other cities were reinvesting in neighborhoods and creating green spaces in urban settings. He knew Chattanooga had a similar history and he saw the opportunity for the city to preserve a great piece of property and create a recreational site.
“What makes this so great is it is so convenient,” he said. “You don’t have to drive two hours away to go hiking or mountain biking.”
Chattanooga Councilwoman Deborah Scott, whose district includes Stringer’s Ridge, said she supports the plan for the North Chattanooga site. Scott said she talked with the planners about security, maintenance, access and signs and she is convinced they considered those issues. A watchful steward of taxpayer dollars, Scott said she is satisfied that the city’s involvement will be justified.
“It’s going to be a real plus for the downtown community, for people who like to bike,” she said. “It’s been embraced by the off-road biking community who have wanted a place for a long time. They are putting a lot of sweat equity into it.”
Scott said striking a balance between development and preservation is a challenge. Green spaces are particularly beneficial for urban areas, she said.
“New York has Central Park, which is a real dichotomy between the city and nature,” she said. “The more people live in close proximity to each other, I think the more they appreciate being out in a natural environment.”
Chattanooga has parks and green spaces, but Stringer’s Ridge is different, Scott said.
“Some visionary people have done a very unique thing in trying to preserve that land,” she said. “There was going to be high density projects in apartments but now it is something that is going to be preserved now and for all time.”