published Friday, November 19th, 2010

Soddy-Daisy rails-to-trails takes step forward

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    Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Laura Oakley Solyom, the co-chair of the committee Soddy-Daisy Rail-to-Trail, stands in front of the old railway that she and her organization hope to turn into a greenway for the Soddy-Daisy community.

Soddy-Daisy commissioners put a 7-year-old rails-to-trails plan back on track Thursday.

Now they're hoping their action will persuade Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey and County Commissioner Fred Skillern not to derail the six-mile walking, biking and horse path.

Jim Adams, Soddy-Daisy's newly elected mayor, received commission authorization to sign an agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority to lease three miles of the utility's abandoned rail line inside city limits.

But the city could face a county roadblock to a companion lease with TVA to convert a second three-mile section of rail trail that lies in the county.

Skillern has voiced opposition to the trail, and Ramsey wouldn't say Thursday whether the Soddy-Daisy commission's move would influence him to sign off on the lease agreement.

"It's been off the radar, and I haven't given it any thought," Ramsey said. "Let's see what the proposals are. Until then, I don't have anything further to say on it."

Although the trail is not expected to cost city or county taxpayers any money, Skillern said he has questions about it.

"I just don't support it. This one crosses six county roads and numerous county driveways," he said. "Until I'm satisfied that all the safety factors, and the cost and upkeep, have been satisfied, I am not in support of it."

The rails-to-trail plan has long been supported by Laura Oakley Solyom, who earlier this year tried to wrest from Skillern the Republican nomination for the County Commission's District 1 seat.

Skillern denied that Solyom's political run has anything to do with his position.

But Adams and Solyom say Skillern's opposition is about personality and is only hurting the residents of Soddy-Daisy and the county.

"How many roads does the Riverwalk cross (running from Chickamauga Dam and along a large chunk of Amnicola Highway to Ross's Landing)?" Solyum asked. "Most of us learned to cross the street safely when we were children."

Adams said the cost question, too, is non-starter.

"This is a classic gift," he said.

The Soddy-Daisy Rails-to-Trails Advocacy Group will pay TVA the $5,000 cost of the 25-year lease for all six miles of the rail line, Adams said. The group also will pay for the paving and construction on the trail, he said, and TVA will remove the rails and crossties.

Adams hopes the city's action, and a petition with 1,000 residents' signatures, will focus new attention on the proposal.

"We answered all the concerns," he said. "Claude Ramsey won't sign off on the section in county because Skillern won't get out of the way," Adams said. "Fred Skillern is the whole problem."

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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rides2far said...

As a republican I find Skillern's position unfathomable. There is no downside to this project. This is a case of individuals taking charge and making a positive contribution without demanding government money. It's even a project that will be a huge plus for an area that has been experiencing a great deal of negative PR and a tragic loss of businesses. Add to that the fact that we are being bombarded by government campaigns to encourage Americans to go outdoors and be more active to combat the epidemic of diabetes and obesity and the only question should be how can we promote MORE of these projects in our area? Just this week Chattanooga hosted the National Trails Convention. We WANT to be known as a town with outdoor opportunities! UTC has spent millions building a new facility to include whitewater rafting, rock climbing, etc to attach itself to this positive image bandwagon. Chattanooga has spent millions on the River Walk, and now Red Bank and Soddy Daisy have the opportunity to offer their residents a no cost recreational opportunity for their area and this backwards politician is standing in our way! Go to Chickamauga Battlefield any Saturday and see the constant flow of hikers, trail runners, and horsemen enjoying the one trail in this entire area that is not either up or down extremely challenging terrain. This is a mountainous area and flat land is in very short supply. An abandoned railroad bed is a very rare opportunity for some of us to enjoy a flat ride or jog. The fact that the trail will cross several roads is a huge plus. If there were only one access point in 6 miles the area right around the entrance would bear a huge percentage of the traffic on the trail. By crossing roads at several points it offers bicyclists and walkers the opportunity to walk or ride different areas on different days and makes use of the entire trail. I suggest Mr. Skillern take a look at the success of the Pinhoti trail in Georgia. It crosses the state going on and off of major roads for hundreds of miles. It has been a huge boost to the economy and is heavily used. I often drive an hour and a half to access this trail simply because nothing like it is available in this area. Please Mr. Skillern, you may be happy to sit in a chair indoors all year but there are those of us who use the outdoors. We aren't asking for anything from you except that you get out of our way.

November 22, 2010 at 10:01 p.m.
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