published Monday, March 28th, 2011

Stringer’s Ridge deal creates natural park

by Cliff Hightower

Rick Wood envisions a series of trails across Stringer’s Ridge—some for hikers, some for mountain bikers and some for trail runners.

Anyone using them would be surrounded by natural beauty and could look out over downtown Chattanooga, all within an urban area screened from users by trees.

That vision now is within reach.

Last week, having raised enough money to pay off debtors and wholly own the land atop Stringer’s Ridge, the Trust for Public Land handed over 37 acres of the property to Chattanooga to become an urban natural park.

The next step is getting people there, said Wood, director of the Trust for Public Land in Chattanooga.

“Making Stringer’s accessible is one of our goals,” Wood said. “It’s close to thousands of people who can enjoy it.”

The trust has worked since 2008 to raise $2.4 million and acquire 91 acres atop Stringer’s Ridge. The trust finished raising the money last month.

The property not handed over to the city will stay in the hands of developer Jimmy Hudson, Wood said. But the Tennessee River Gorge Trust holds a conservation easement on all 91 acres to make sure that land is left undeveloped and publicly accessible, Wood said.

Next, the Trust for Public Land will assess trails in the area and begin planning for new trails. The park will be officially open to the public by this fall, Wood said.

Larry Zehnder, Chattanooga’s parks and recreation director, said the park has been used unofficially for 10 years by bikers, hikers and trail runners, but some elements, such as parking, still need to be addressed.

Some temporary measures, such as parking along city streets, are likely in the interim, he said.

“We want to try and make it available as soon as possible,” he said.

Jason Havron, who lives next to the new park, said he is ecstatic the area is being preserved from development. He said his wife walks the trails almost every morning. He said he thinks his property value will go up with a park nearby.

Just a few years ago, there was talk of building condominiums in the area. North Chattanooga residents protested and the Trust for Public Land stepped in to make the area into a park.

Havron said now he can be assured the beautiful property near his house will be preserved.

“You don’t have to worry about someone sticking a high-rise up,” he said.

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