By Pam Sohn
A new greenway will stretch from Camp Jordan to the downtown waterfront, helping create a 22-mile path for cyclists, inline skaters and urban hikers.
"It won't be unusual in the future for a person who lives in East Ridge to get on his bicycle and come downtown and have coffee and pastries," said Rivercity's Jim Bowen, a longtime supporter of greenways and the Tennessee Riverpark. "That's an unbelievable amenity for a community."
The Trust for Public Land and Chattanooga this spring will begin extending the South Chickamauga Greenway to join the Riverwalk
The South Chickamauga Creek Greenway is now about four miles long, from Camp Jordan along the Brainerd levee. Once completed, the entire greenway will run 12 miles and connect to the Tennessee Riverpark's 10-mile Riverwalk, creating one of the nation's longest contiguous series of paved, boardwalked and bridged trails, Mr. Bowen said.
The completed greenway is projected to cost about $5.6 million.
Rick Wood, field office director for the Trust for Public Land in Chattanooga, said the 10-foot-wide, asphalt and boardwalk trail will tie suburban neighborhoods to Chattanooga's east side and the city's downtown waterfront.
"This is a big step for us and this community. We've been putting this plan together for 10 years," Mr. Wood said. Officials plan a groundbreaking for the project on May 7, he said.
The first 1.2-mile section will start between the old Sterchi Farm around the Waterhaven residential development across the creek from the Kings Point community, Mr. Wood said.
The Waterhaven/Sterchi Farm section will cost about $600,000, he said. The city will fund $400,000, and the Lyndhurst Foundation will provide $200,000. A city park near the old farm's unusual stone silo will include a canoe launch and commemoration for a nearby Trail of Tears creek crossing area.
A second 1.5-mile extension will connect that park to the Tennessee Riverwalk near the South Chickamauga Creek's mouth to the Tennessee River. This extension, requiring boardwalks and bridges, will cost $1.7 million to $2 million, Mr. Wood said.
Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., already has been able to secure much of the needed funding for the second section -- $1.5 million -- through a federal transportation appropriations bill, the Transportation Equity Act, passed in 2005. Mr. Wood said Lyndhurst will provide a match with $400,000.
Mr. Wood said the Benwood Foundation and private individuals provided support for land acquisition, and some landowners donated land or easements.
"We feel the stars are aligning," Mr. Wood said. "We expect to have the three miles completed by the fall of 2008."
He said the first phase of the greenway around the Waterhaven development should be completed in four to five months.
Mr. Wood said he hopes the city's Trail of Tears park and canoe launch will be constructed at the same time.
Original designers had planned for one of the spans on the second trail extension to come from a section of the Hale's Bar truss bridge when the Tennessee Department of Transportation dismantles the old bridge.
But Mr. Wood said further study found the bridge spans might not be sturdy enough when separated from the whole bridge, plus the span was so large it would have to be floated on a barge up the river and up into the creek.
"That became a nightmare," Mr. Wood said. "We saw all these dollar signs, and we thought it would just be better if we built a nice new elegant bridge."
The third and longest extension, a five-mile trail to link the Brainerd levee to the new city park and the Sterchi Farm site, will cost about $3 million and is not yet funded.
Dalton Roberts, a retired county executive who grew up near South Chickamauga Creek, is especially excited about the greenway extension plans.
"It's a beautiful creek to walk by and a good addition to Riverpark," said Mr. Roberts, who writes a column for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "When I was boy, I used to build little raft boats and float down the creek to the river and camp and put out trout lines. One day people will be walking and riding their bicycles to work through there."
Descendants of the farmer who operated Sterchi and Sons Dairy said they are pleased there will be park and greenway where they once worked and played as children.
"I would prefer the city have it as (to have) somebody's house be sitting there," said Wolland Sterchi, who recalls working on the farm with his brothers and cousins.
"I'm sure my granddaddy would be proud," said Lebron Sterchi, of Fred Sterchi, who started the dairy in 1898.
Mr. Wood said the Trust for Public Land has found every landowner along the creek to be friendly toward the greenway.
"All of the land is in place for phase one," he said. On the second and third sections, only four land parcels remain to be negotiated, he said.
"If the Riverwalk is the centerpiece or hub, South Chickamauga Creek Greenway would be a long spoke," Mr. Wood said. "It's hard to imagine Chattanooga without the Riverwalk and the Walnut Street Bridge, and the more we play off of those greenways, the more people will use it.
E-mail Pam Sohn at email@example.com
Staff Photo by D. Patrick Harding
Rick Wood of the Trust for Public Land and Michelle Melton pass an old stone silo near where the South Chickamauga Greenway will run.