From his office window on Manufacturers Road, Jeff Bartlett can see the four lushly wooded hilltops of Stringer's Ridge that rise just north of the North Shore cityscape.
Bartlett, a marketing and social media coordinator at Rock/Creek Outfitters, is an avid trail runner, and like many other athletes who live or work in the downtown area, the 32-year-old finds solace on the dirt paths that wind along the ridgeline.
"The value of Stringer's Ridge is in its convenience," Bartlett explains. "There are so many good options for running trails in the Chattanooga area, but Stringer's Ridge is within a mile of where I work, and that's nice."
After work, Bartlett and other runners launch from the Rock/Creek parking lot, dart the few blocks that lead up to Stringer's Ridge, then burn their legs out on the up-and-down trails that thread through an urban forest of oaks and dogwoods. Runners politely share the area with hikers, mountain bikers and Hill City homeowners who use the woodlands to walk their dogs or sit under the leafy canopy with good reads.
Bartlett admits that it's not all peace and wild beauty on the ridge. "Parking can be difficult at some of the trailheads, trash accumulates up there and the trail system is pretty difficult to follow, if you are unfamiliar with the ridge," he says.
But that's about to change.
The Trust for Public Land has unveiled its much-awaited Stringer's Ridge Park master plan - a blueprint, of sorts, for enhancing the 102-acre urban forest and integrating it with surrounding cityscapes and greenways.
"We see so much potential in Stringer's Ridge Park," says Rick Wood, TPL's Tennessee state director. "Our goal is to develop a quality trail system and outdoor recreational facility that will inspire a diverse group of users, accommodate a variety of skill levels and protect the natural beauty and resources of the property."
Plans for the ridge - developed by Trail Dynamics out of North Carolina - are being rolled out in two phases, with the first phase slated for completion later this year. Phase one will concentrate efforts on establishing an overlook area, defining trailheads, constructing a parking area, posting trail signs throughout the park and enhancing the existing network of trails.
At the end of phase one, Stringer's Ridge Park will showcase about 10 miles of new and existing trails that meander through tranquil, tree-filled terrain and offer five distinctively different trail experiences to visitors.
"The view of downtown at sunset is particularly spectacular," Wood says, referring to a point where the trees open up, revealing a dramatic bird's-eye view of signature landmarks. From the ridge, the mighty Tennessee River, Walnut Street Bridge, Hunter Museum and Tennessee Aquarium seem to glow - bathed in the magical golden sunlight that precedes the dimming of the day.
"We plan to build an elevated wooden platform that will allow visitors to take in this unique view of the city," Wood says. "We'll also add integrated seating and interpretive exhibits to the platform that will entice trail users to relax and learn more about the history of Stringer's Ridge and Chattanooga."
The master plan also proposes a total of six park entry points - three of which have been earmarked for neighborhood access.
"The main trailhead will be across the street from Nikki's at the corner of Cherokee Boulevard and West Bell Avenue," says Wood. "During phase one, we'll create a small parking area at that location for seven or eight cars and place a kiosk at the trailhead to post park maps and rules."
From the main trailhead, visitors will access one of the park's major arteries - an easy hiking/biking double track that winds its way through the park and feeds other trails along the ridge. Wood also mentions a fly-over bridge and plans to eventually connect the ridge lands to nearby White Oak Park in Red Bank.
Even though the majority of the enhancement projects have already been funded, thanks to a TPL-led capital campaign that raised $2.5 million for Stringer's Ridge, Wood says that volunteers of all skill levels will be needed to complete some of the upcoming improvement projects. From laying in timbers for steps to spreading gravel and rock to constructing the overlook deck to pulling out invasive vines from the trails' edges to picking up trash, there will plenty to do to make the park's master plan come to life.
A Conservation Story
Stringer's Ridge was saved by the hard work, generosity and collaborative power of several local entities and individuals.
In 2007 and 2008, when Stringer's Ridge was threatened by a residential development plan that would have destroyed its natural beauty, The Trust for Public Land got involved and organized a $2.5 million capital campaign to purchase 37 acres of the ridge from landowner and real estate developer Jimmy Hudson. Hudson later donated the adjacent 55 acres of property for conservation efforts.
TPL worked with the Hill City neighborhood, Wild Trails, the Southern Off Road Bicycle Association, Equinox Environ-mental and Trail Dynamics to assess the ridgeline and develop a master plan for its future use.
The Tennessee River Gorge Trust agreed to hold two conservation easements that will protect the ridge's natural beauty forever. TRGT also helped form the Friends of Stringer's Ridge - a group of volunteers who will assist with the upkeep of the property and organize clean-up and improvement activities. Seven members of Leadership Chattanooga's class of 2011-2012 have agreed to kick start the Friends group.
The city of Chattanooga agreed to take ownership of the park. The parks and recreation department will manage and maintain the urban forest and trailways. Plus, the city has developed a Chattanooga Stewardship program for people who want to help watch over Stringer's Ridge and other city parks.
THE TRUST FOR PUBLIC LAND
202 Tremont Street
Chattanooga, TN 37405
Since 1994, the Trust for Public Land has worked to conserve land for people in and around Chattanooga to enjoy as parks, greenways, trails and natural sanctuaries.
GREEN The first trail type, denoted by a thick green line on the map, is an all-abilities trail. Its expansive, 8-foot-plus widths, paved or crushed gravel surfacing, easy grades and access to the city overlook point make it a prime beginner-friendly pedestrian and bicycle trail. "This quarter-mile stretch of trail will form the spine of the main family-friendly loop," says Wood. "The trail already exists, but it needs some maintenance to make it even more spectacular."
YELLOW A wide yellow line represents the second trail type - an easy walk/bike double track with 6-foot-plus widths and a mixture of both natural and improved surfacing. Wood notes that the park will offer more than two miles of this type of trail showcasing gentle curves, plenty of room to pass hikers and bikers and light inclines and falls. The maximum trail gradient for this trail is a comfortable 10 percent, the industry standard for well-designed hiking trails.
PURPLE For a little more excitement, visitors will be interested in the third trail type - designated by thin purple strokes. "Trail type three is more for the intermediate-level hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers," says Wood. "The trails are narrower with about 4-foot widths of compacted dirt surfacing and the inclines are a little more aggressive." On these trails, mountain bikers will likely be routed in the opposite direction from foot traffic so the two user groups will be facing each other on the pathways. This strategy will reduce the likelihood of user collisions in the park.
PINK A fourth type of trail (in hot pink) invites only intermediate- level hikers and trail runners onto its narrow singletrack. Designed to provide a more solitary, reflective experience for hikers, these trails will lead through dense vegetation and incorporate timber steps to navigate steeper pitches in the course. The segment reaching the western ridgetop will lead visitors to interpretive information describing Stringer's Ridge's role in the Civil War.
BLUE The fifth and final trail type denoted on the map in sky blue forms a loop around the northeastern hilltop. "It will be roughly a half mile of easy singletrack trail for both hikers and bikers," Wood says.