A grant to build 10 miles of horse trails at Enterprise South Nature Park appeared at risk Wednesday when Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, chairman of the finance committee, said he couldn't support it.
The $460,000 state Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant would be combined with $115,000 each from the city of Chattanooga and the county. Commissioners voted last year to apply for the grant, and there was broad public support when the county was developing the master plan for the nature park, county Development Director Dan Saieed said at the commission agenda session.
In other business
At Wednesday’s business meeting, Hamilton County commissioners also will consider renewing a contract with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum to manage and maintain the railroad lines in Enterprise South industrial park.Under the present contract, the lines are used mostly for storage. The new, 30-year agreement would also include switching, moving rail cars from one place to another to pick up or offload supplies and equipment.The railroad museum would manage those transactions for a fee and the county would get a share: $140,000 a year or 4 percent of the gross, whichever is more.
Boyd waved a sheet of paper he said was a budget for the trail project, including $80,000 for a waterless restroom, $70,000 for a parking lot and other expenses. He read from what he said was Outdoor Chattanooga magazine that there is an abundance of horse trails in the Chattanooga area.
"Abundance. That's a pretty strong word," Boyd said. He pointed out that Hamilton County used to give the public library system $2.6 million a year, but no longer.
"We've got a significant literacy problem in Hamilton County," he said. The county already spends $6.3 million on recreation each year, he said, and the Enterprise South Nature Park's budget has risen from $475,000 a year to $1.4 million.
This would be even more money, Boyd said, "when the general public of Hamilton County is not allowed to go to the library without a $50 fee." Since Chattanooga took over the formerly jointly funded library system a few years ago, people who live outside the city must pay an annual fee to visit the library.
Boyd also took a whack at the media for what he called "incredible" scrutiny of commissioners' $100,000-each discretionary spending funds, saying there was much less scrutiny of the equally "discretionary" trails project.
"There's nothing requiring us to do this," Boyd said.
Commissioner Randy Fairbanks landed a second blow on the media over "the beating we get constantly in our districts for spending [discretionary money] in our districts for things like volunteer fire departments, that are so much needed."
But Fairbanks and other finance committee members didn't want to turn their backs on a grant they'd voted last year to apply for. The horse trails have been touted as a community amenity that could boost tourism and economic development.
"There's been millions spent on things that don't necessarily serve the interests of the majority of taxpayers," said Commissioner Greg Beck, whose district includes the nature park.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger urged the committee to support the project, as well, noting that the nature park is now drawing 150,000 people a year and the trails would be "an enhancement for the area."
Commissioners Fairbanks, Beck, Sabrena Turner-Smedley and Warren Mackey voted to recommend passage to the full commission at next week's voting meeting.
A local equestrian enthusiast welcomed the news.
Marie Lawrence owns Mystery Dog Ranch in Ringgold, Ga., which hosts the Two Creeks Riding Club.
Lawrence said Wednesday the only close public riding trails are at the Chickamauga Battlefield and Prentice Cooper State Park. And at that park, she said, riders have to share space with motorcyclists, hunters and a shooting range.
Trails at Enterprise South would be wonderful, she said.
"Mystery Dog Ranch would greatly appreciate riding trails in that area," Lawrence said. "We have hundreds of people that would gladly use them."
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416.