A proposed outdoor recreational development off Mountain Creek Road below the W Road could bring downhill mountain bike trails, a bouldering area, hiking trails and a picnicking area within minutes of downtown Chattanooga.
Several nonprofit organizations are in the early stages of planning a recreational area for the land that sits near a collection of apartment complexes between Signal Mountain Road and Reads Lake Road. The organizations now own about 100 acres of property just southwest of the former Quarry Golf Course and hope to eventually control about 200 acres for the project.
"I hope that this will be a crowning jewel," District 1 City Councilman Chip Henderson said. "I'm in favor of this. I think it will be a great addition to the area."
A group of organizations — backed by private funding and potential public grants — have teamed up to turn the concept into one of the area's signature outdoor locations.
The area would run from Signal Mountain down to Mountain Creek Road and offer users a variety of activities in close proximity to the city's urban core.
If implemented, the trail network would add the first downhill mountain bike course in the city and potentially have several trails featuring an array of difficulties. The property already has about 20 rocks suitable for bouldering. Groups are working to create access to the boulders and turn the area into a premier climbing destination in the city.
The Land Trust for Tennessee is spearheading the project and leaning on other local groups with more specific knowledge to help execute the proposal. The Southeast Climbers Coalition and Access Fund are working in tandem to create access and maximize the rocks in place to create a bouldering area that matches the quality of others in the region. The Southern Off-Road Bicycling Organization and its network of volunteers will lead trail building efforts, and North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy owns the 100-acre parcel and is helping manage land use.
The wooded land is one of few potential green spaces for the area, smothered against development on Mountain Creek Road. There is additional wooded area above the property and to the northeast, and protecting that is a key goal for the groups. They'd like to keep the area as wooded and natural as possible while providing outdoor recreation.
The project is still in its infancy. The groups are at the end of the preliminary stage, Land Trust for Tennessee Conservation Manager Rachael Bergmann said, which involved coordinating partnerships, research and creating a rough draft of what it could look like when finished. The groups don't yet control enough property to fully implement the plan but are working with private land owners. They also haven't determined how long the trails will be or an official name for the recreational area.
"There is a lot still up in the air," Land Trust for Tennessee communications director Daniel Brown said. "Frankly, it's still a little early."
However, some of the major work, such as coordinating partnerships and preliminary designs, is done. North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy Executive Director Tim Laramore hopes the park can open in 2019. However, that is tentative and the Land Trust for Tennessee is not ready to announce an official opening date.
"We have a lot of moving parts here," Brown said. "We feel good about the progress, but it's a little too soon to put a hard-and-fast timeline on there."
Area residents have been asking for more green space for quite some time, Henderson said. The only option in easy walking distance is the short trail and grass area outside Red Bank Elementary School.
This project would give those residents an area to recreate through hiking, trail running, bouldering and mountain biking.
"It's undeveloped forested land with a lot of great boulders and good terrain for hiking and mountain biking trails to be built," Access Fund Southeast Regional Director Zachary Lesch-Huie said. "The hope is, if a deal can be reached with the land owners, to eventually open it to the public as a recreation area, particularly with mountain biking and climbing opportunities, but others as well."
A proposed project at an adjoining property drew the ire of a group of Mountain Creek residents and potentially could cut off some access to the property.
A plan to build multifamily homes and apartments on an adjoining property was recently proposed for the former Quarry golf course site. A potential buyer brought the plan to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency meeting last week and was met by dozens of unhappy residents ready to voice their concerns. However, the developer, James Pratt, withdrew the proposal at the beginning of the meeting to the surprise of opponents, telling the Times Free Press, "We don't know what our plan is right now. We will have to re-evaluate."
Residents are concerned about stormwater runoff and the potential impact on a nearby creek. They're also worried about overpopulation on Mountain Creek Road and aren't convinced more apartments are the best use of land.
"Many of the residents are concerned about apartments continuing to creep north," Henderson said. "It's true that it's compatible with what we just did [on Mountain Creek Road], but it's not necessarily compatible with where we're going. We have to get to a point to where we draw a line in the sand."