A stunning new greenway

A stunning new greenway

October 2nd, 2011 in Opinion Times

Chattanooga's dedicated greenway builders and advocates have remained energized, even in a sour economy, by a compelling vision of a greenway network that eventually will branch outward from the spine of the Riverwalk to key points throughout the community. Their continuing efforts toward that goal will pay off again today with another milestone: The official opening of a unique four-mile segment of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway.

Nestled along an almost hidden treasure of the city, this section of what's commonly referred to as the South Chick Greenway is a gem. Its uniqueness owes to the enchanting, elevated boardwalk built above marshy lowlands areas that meanders along the tree-lined creek. Construction of the extensive sturdy boardwalk may make it the most expensive leg of the greenway. If so, it is well worth the effort. The board walk portions provide great beauty and cap the most difficult work toward completion of the entire 14-mile greenway.

That work should be completed in the next few years. It needs the addition of just three more land easements along the creek and another focused fund-raising effort to finance the two remaining sections. One is another four mile section of hard-surface track to connect the newest segment with the Brainerd Levee, which now terminates at Shallowford Road. The other, about a mile long, will carry the greenway from the new leg the rest of the way to its junction with the Riverwalk.

When the final work is done, the long South Chick greenway will stretch from the Tennessee Riverwalk near Amnicola Highway all the way to East Ridge's Camp Jordan, near the Georgia line.

The new section of the South Chick greenway is a special place. Save the portion needed to skirt the Waterhaven subdivision near the Hawthorne Street trailhead off Riverside Drive, it travels mainly through a quiet patch of low-lying rural land. Much of this section was farmland, protected as a floodplain, and separated from the creek by a thin curtain of woods along its banks.

In reality, the big creek's looping path from North Georgia to the Tennessee River virtually divides the urban core of the city on its western side from the suburban area beyond its eastern side.

Still, walkers and bicyclists who go to the new section of the South Chick greenway will find themselves in a quite place mostly hidden from residential areas. It is a place populated by great blue herons, substantial fish and aquatic life, and sheltered by shade, trees and bushes along both banks. The nearest sounds of society are the crossing under a bridge on Bonny Oaks Drive by the old Governor's Lounge, and the occasional rumbling of trains crossing the creek's looping curves in three places.

In the wet seasons, this northern end of the South Chick, swollen by the rain runoff from East Brainerd and North Georgia, runs strong and creeps up its banks, affording the greenway's pedestrians, canoeists and sea kayakers a lively stream that seems undiscovered. For recreation on the water, there is a convenient canoe-launching ramp at the Harrison Pike trailhead at the creek. (Harrison Pike is easily reached at its intersection with Access Road, between Amnicola Highway and Bonny Oaks Drive.)

Creation of the new leg owes to the hard work of Chattanooga's Trust for Public Land office, headed by Rick Wood, and roughly $2.7 million in federal and foundation funding. Wood negotiated with seven landowners for easements and purchases of 90 acres at a cost of $233,000, for a foregone market value of almost $500,000.

Former congressman Zach Wamp secured a $1.6 million grant from the Department of Transportation. The Lyndhurst and Benwood foundation provided $500,000 and $200,000, respectively, to make up a matching grant to qualify for the federal grant. Another $500,000 was obtained through the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Officials will gather at 2:30 p.m. today at the Harrison Pike trailhead for a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the opening of the new greenway section. Among them will be Mayor Ron Littlefield and City Councilman Russell Gilbert, who encouraged work on the South Chick greenway to provide a convenient access to nature to residents of his district.

Other greenway progress

Progress on other greenways is quickening. County and city officials have fresh hope of landing a $10 million alternate transportation grant the Riverwalk 3 miles, from Ross's Landing around Riverfront Parkway, opposite Moccasin Bend, to the South Broad Street area. That would provide additional access to federal park trails on the side of Lookout Mountain.

Other planned trail work would connect the North Shore parks to the Moccasin Bend and Stringer's Ridge park areas. Some county officials have also voiced support for a Riverwalk connection across the Tennessee River to link to the North Chickamauga Greenway. Public hope for such greenway additions should, at last, compel city and county officials to provide a portion of the costs for such public amenities through annually designated taxpayer funding. Greenways have proved their worth.