published Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Support for greenway work

Chattanooga's Trust for Public Land office and its partner alliances have labored more than two decades to build the pieces of a greenway network that eventually will span the Chattanooga region and points beyond. The beloved Riverwalk from downtown to Chickamauga Dam is the heart and spine of this network. It ultimately will link greenways on both sides of the Tennessee River to downtown and to trails up both mountains.

One axis will stretch from North Georgia's Chickamauga Battlefield, via the South Chickamauga Greenway and the Riverwalk, to Lookout Mountain's portion of the battlefield park's trail system, and on to Cloudland Canyon. From a pedestrian link over the C.B. Robinson Bridge, the Riverwalk will also tie in to the North Chickamauga Creek greenway and its linkage, via a Signal Mountain junction, with the Cumberland Trail, which will stretch to Kentucky when completed.

A new South Chick link

This visionary master plan can't be built quickly, but it is taking shape, chunk by chunk, in all directions. The South Chickamauga greenway took a huge step forward this past week with the announcement that construction of another three-to-four miles would begin within weeks.

To those who aren't involved in the tedious work of greenway building, a few miles of new greenway may not sound thrilling. But to those engaged in the extraordinarily time-consuming work of plotting and building greenways, the arrival at this point is huge.

It literally takes years to find funding and negotiate contracts for purchase or access easements across the scores of individual parcels of property that must be strung together for just a single mile of greenway. Putting together several miles of a trail is a significant achievement. Finding the incremental funding, which is tough in good years and almost impossible in a recession, takes equal patience and perseverance.

A handful do the work

The small handful of people who do this work, often gratis, merit our gratitude and applause for the toil and thankless hours they expend to bestow the gift of greenways to our community. Theirs is a timeless gift: each major segment of each route will serve generations of area residents with improved quality of life through easy and widespread access to the broader greenway network they are building.

The newest leg of greenway will be a paved portion of the South Chickamauga Creek greenway off Amnicola Highway. It will point toward the current Brainerd levee terminus of the greenway at Shallowford Road. In a few more years, the South Chick greenway will wind 14 finished miles, from the Riverwalk all the way to East Ridge's Camp Jordan.

A north Georgia group, at work at the south end, has plans to extend the greenway from Camp Jordan, which lies hard by I-24 behind Brainerd Village, all the way to the Chickamauga Battlefield in Fort Oglethorpe. A substantial portion of the South Chick greenway is already available by foot and by canoe, but when people can walk, bicycle or run the entire distance, it will be magnificent, and surprisingly varied and green in its natural landscape.

On the north side of the Tennessee River, work proceeds on securing easements to extend the North Chickamauga Creek greenway, now about 5 miles long, to the foot of Walden's Ridge. A trail spur up the escarpment is envisioned to link the greenway, via donor easements and existing land trusts, to the state's Cumberland Trail, which begins at Signal Point and is also being built along the route to Kentucky in piecemeal fashion.

Funding for building and paving the new 3-to-4 mile portion of the South Chick greenway that was announced last Wednesday amounts to $2.65 million. That sum includes $1.6 million in federal transportation department funds for alternative transportation; $400,000 in federal stimulus money; and gifts of $400,000 from the Lyndhurst Foundation and $250,000 from the Benwood Foundation.

Vital civic benefits

Funding from each source is provided in recognition of the health, recreation and community-building benefits of public greenways, and their use by many people as a route for alternative transportation by pedestrians and bicyclists.

Those are especially valuable benefits worthy of taxpayer and donor support from government, individuals and civic-minded organizations. Indeed, given the immense public enjoyment of our existing greenways by residents and visitors of all ages, it is surprising -- and unfortunate -- that greenway building has not yet been awarded a designated funding source.

City government has contributed periodic funding from the relatively small proportion of federal transportation funds it receives that are restricted to use for alternative transportation projects. But neither city nor county government has agreed to a designated annual appropriation from local taxpayer funds to the Trust for Public Land for development of greenway programs.

Stingy local governments

Other municipalities around Hamilton County have been equally unwilling to dedicate funding to, or invest regularly in, the public value of greenways. Yet this work is as necessary for the peace, the soul and the personal health and well-being of our citizens as any public project could be. Local governments should change their attitude. Too many citizens have no easily accessible and safe place to walk and enjoy the healthful solace of outdoor exercise. Investment in greenways, bicycle lanes and extended sidewalk programs is a logical way to meet those needs, and local government should lead in that investment.

Citizens interested in supporting the building of greenways have ample opportunity to help on their own. The Trust for Public Land accepts tax-deductible contributions for specific projects, and also can put callers in touch with the North Chickamauga and South Chickamauga greenway alliances. The TPL office may also be reached at (423) 265-6681. The address is 202 Tremont St., Chattanooga, TN 37405. It's also accessible on the Internet at http://www.tpl.org. Click on "Where We Work," then click on Tennessee.

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