As head of the Trust for Public Land in Chattanooga, Rick Wood planted and nurtured the seeds that grew into some of the community's most beloved amenities: The Tennessee Riverwalk, Stringer's Ridge trails and the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway, to name just a few.
Now, after 17 years at TPL, Wood says he's transplanting himself to a new patch.
At Chestnut Real Estate, Wood said, he'll use skills he learned in finding property for preservation to look for investment opportunities in the city and the region.
He's excited about the future, but also a little nostalgic about leaving behind what he calls "just an amazing adventure, an amazing ride."
"Working shoulder to shoulder with people who have the same kind of vision and drive for your community, it's a lot of fun," he said.
It took strong partnerships among local organizations and officials to turn dreams into — literally, often — concrete reality.
Sarah Quattrochi, associate director of the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, remembers how Wood's walk with a neighboring landowner helped the push to preserve Stringer's Ridge.
"He saw the vision of why she and other neighbors did not want it developed and turned into condos, and the benefit it could have for the local community, especially North Chattanooga and Hill City, and the value that brought by keeping it in its natural state," Quattrochi said.
The Trust obtained a conservation easement on Stringer's Ridge in 2009, and TPL raised $2.4 million to buy 37 acres of the 92-acre tract. The landowner donated the rest. Now, though the land is owned by Chattanooga and Red Bank, it can never be sold off for development, she said.
"The city has been fortunate to have him carrying out the vision of their logo, Land for the People. That's what Rick is trying to do, carry out that vision and connect people in Chattanooga to the land that's right in their backyard," Quattrochi said.
The TPL was in at the very beginning of the Tennessee Riverwalk, partnering with the Lyndhurst Foundation and others, including Chattanooga and Hamilton County government. The Riverwalk now stretches from Chickamauga Dam to St. Elmo.
"Without Rick's knowledge and insight the Riverpark as we know it would not exist," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said. "Rick has been a tireless supporter of conservation and the environment. Rick's impact is experienced every day as people visit and use Hamilton County's natural resources."
Lyndhurst President Bruz Clark called Wood "a consummate park advocate and conservationist and a wonderful person to boot a terrific partner to the Lyndhurst Foundation and great asset" to the community and state.
"It's been a great pleasure to work with Rick on projects to protect open space, promote active living and healthy lifestyles and attract appropriate and desirable growth and economic development," Clark said.
Donna Williams, administrator of Chattanooga's Department Economic and Community Development, added: "Chattanoogans as well as visitors interact daily with parks and greenways that TPL quietly facilitated in partnership with local government and our generous foundation partners."
TPL also partnered with the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation to set up Fitness Zones full of exercise equipment for residents in downtown neighborhoods.
"Thanks to Rick and his team, some of the city's most at-risk residents now have a safe, convenient place to exercise," foundation executive director Roy Vaughn said. "It's just one part of the great legacy Rick's leaving."
Asked what he's most proud of in his 17 years with TPL, Wood said different things stand out.
Stringer's Ridge was "the most challenging. It required the most tenacity and persistence. It required all attention, all hands on deck," he said. "I think we used all of the Trust for Public Land components," from buying or acquiring property to fundraising, planning the space and managing construction to hatching a friends group that will help the city look after the park.
Regarding foundations such as Benwood, McKenzie, Lyndhurst and others that gave grants worth millions for projects such as the Riverwalk, he said, "I just can't thank them enough" for the trust they placed in him and TPL.
He said whoever replaces him — that person hasn't yet been chosen — else will have to finish the final piece of another favorite, the 12-mile South Chickamauga Creek Greenway from Camp Jordan to the Tennessee River.
There's a three-mile gap to be filled. All the property has been acquired, and the next step is raising $2 million to complete construction, he said.
"Once it's connected, I think it's going to be another place you take all your friends, all your visitors; it's just going to be an amazing amenity," Wood said.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at email@example.com or 423-757-6416.