Unified trail system one step closer with South Chickamauga Creek Greenway expansion

Authored By Beverly Carroll

With the opening of a new section of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway, the Chattanooga area moves closer to its goal of a unified system of trails and open spaces.

The section is one piece of a master plan that will join the Tennessee Riverwalk with area greenways, bringing benefits beyond the four newly paved miles that link North Hawthorne Street in East Chattanooga to Faith Road in North Brainerd, Chattanooga Councilman Russell Gilbert said.

“I know it is difficult for people to understand (the depth of the benefit),” Gilbert said recently. “But it is part of what draws businesses here. It’s part of the quality of life we have here in Chattanooga that plays with the businesses’ decisions to come here.”

The new section was funded with a mix of local, state and federal dollars.

“Working in Chattanooga is really amazing,” Rick Wood, Tennessee state director of the Trust for Public Land, said. “Our mission is to create (green spaces) for people and we are having an impact on making parks and land accessible.”

The Chattanooga Greenway Master Plan was developed in 1994, sometime after the Tennessee Riverpark and Riverwalk projects were already underway, Wood said. Though they are separate projects, the goal is to continue building riverwalks and greenways to create a network for recreational opportunities and protect the environment. The trails also provide alternative transportation, Wood said.

“The vision is to have it interconnect so that if you get on a bike, you can ride from Camp Jordan all the way to the Tennessee River on the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway, hit the Riverwalk and then go all the way downtown,” Wood said. “We are planning on extending the Riverwalk to the foot of Lookout Mountain and hit some trails at the base of Lookout Mountain.”

The Hamilton County Commission last week signed off on a $1.4 million design contract for the Riverwalk expansion that will begin at Ross’s Landing Park, following the Tennessee River along Riverside Drive, behind Alstom, on to St. Elmo, connecting the Guild Trail and Hardy Trail, Engineer Todd Leamon said.

“The design contract will include the environmental engineering,” Leamon said. “It is part of the overall estimated $15 million cost. The county is paying 10 percent and the City (of Chattanooga) is paying 10 percent. The remaining 80 percent is from a federal grant.”

Knoxville-based Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon, Inc., was awarded the design contract.

The St. Elmo segment of the Riverwalk will eventually connect with trails leading up to Covenant College, Lula Lake and Lula Falls, and Cloudland Canyon State Park, Leamon said.

The Lula Lake Falls and the area surrounding the Lookout Mountain lake was preserved through efforts led by the Trust for Public Land, according to the group’s website.

“We’re the city’s lead partner in implementing the greenways master plan,” he said. “We talk to landowners about their legacy, how they can help preserve land.”

The Trust for Public Land was instrumental in helping the city secure the Stringer’s Ridge property in North Chattanooga, which is now part of the planning process for the gateway to the Moccasin Bend National Park, Wood said. The organization’s long range goal is for everyone to have a linear park within a short distance of their neighborhood, he said. 

Chattanooga Councilman Manny Rico said it is important for government to understand and support conservation of public land because of its role in economic development. It was one of the incentives for Alstom to locate in Chattanooga, he said.

“Other people see its importance,” Rico said. “Running that Riverwalk behind Alstom was a condition of their coming here. They demanded it. They are really looking forward to (their employees having access to the area).”