An upcoming expansion for John C. Wilson Park will be a highlight on the planned Tennessee Riverwalk extension along South Broad to connect walkers and bikers to trails on Lookout Mountain.
"The park is really our connection with the Riverwalk," said Robyn Carlton, CEO of Lookout Mountain Conservancy. "We're going to extend it from 3.5 acres to 20. Every project that we undertake is absolutely mission driven. Our mission requires us to take care of the entire 93 miles of this mountain from Chattanooga to Gadsden, Ala., and everything in between."
Mike Harrell, president of the South Broad Development Group, is currently working to secure zoning along South Broad in anticipation of the Riverwalk expansion.
"It's exciting," he said. "Now we can envision what we're going to be connecting to."
If all the funding and land acquisition falls into place, Carlton said Wilson Park will extend to follow Cummings Highway for 8 additional acres with Old Wauhatchie Pike running through the center of the expansion and Guild Trail creating a border on one side. Plans created by LMC in conjunction with Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon include small additions such as a new pavilion, picnic nooks, parking and access to hiking routes including Guild Trail.
"It is the connection for the rest of the 93 miles of the mountain through a series of our trails and national park trails," Carlton said. "Our goal is to create a trail system that takes you from the base of Lookout Mountain to Gadsden, Ala. So, eventually, you will be able to get on the Riverwalk at Volkswagen, when it extends that far, and you will be able to walk the entire way to Gadsden."
Larger projects within the plan for Wilson Park's expansion include an outdoor amphitheater built so organizations like the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera can host concerts. A new welcome center is planned to function as both a visitor and education center with meeting rooms for presentations, a history museum and other resources about Chattanooga and the Riverwalk.
The Wilson Park expansion project is currently in the land-acquisition and fundraising stage, but a tentative timeline calls for everything to be up and running in two to four years. Within the next three months, Carlton said she hopes to have more concrete details available for the welcome center and park.
"There's a cost range which depends on how we build the welcome center, which is the most expensive part of the project," said Carlton, who expects most of the funds to come from private donations and grants. "The low end is $18 million and the high end is $25 million, which includes everything. We are trying to get the funding going and it's really almost there."
Carlton said she envisions the park being used as a location for concerts, plays, historical tours, yoga and for hosting local, regional and national trail- running, cycling and rock- climbing events. Carlton said LMC wants to add South Broad Redevelopment Group as a partner to make sure Riverwalk extension plans continue to progress. LMC is also looking for support and feedback from residents of the surrounding area.
"As we're rolling all this out we've had conversations with some of the landholders, but not all of them," said Carlton, who plans to begin making contact with property owners near the park to share LMC's goals. "We'll go to each individually as we know what's going to happen and then start holding community meetings."