After 25 years of work, the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway is complete, stretching 12 miles from Camp Jordan to the Tennessee Riverwalk.
Designed to mimic the character of the creek, the greenway winds alongside the tributary, following its lush embankments - so steep in some places, it required special engineering. The most recently completed segment, the Cromwell Hills Connector, for example, features a boardwalk in place of a paved trail, nearly a mile long and stilted up to 40 feet over the water.
"At best, we could build about 20 feet per day," says Noel Durant, Tennessee director of Trust for Public Land, the organization that's been working with the city since 1996 to establish the greenway. More than just the terrain, the boardwalk required navigating the area's historic train trestles and bridge pilings, some of which predate the Civil War.
Ultimately, the boardwalk cost about $4 million - 25% of the greenway's total construction cost, making it the most expensive section to build, but also the most critical.
The segment begins behind the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and ends at Cromwell Hills, an apartment complex of about 400 residents.
South Chickamauga Creek Greenway completed
"In my opinion, it's been the least connected neighborhood in all of Chattanooga," says Jenny Park, former trust state director.
Located near Shallowford Road, there is no sidewalk or even a regular bus schedule to connect the complex to the rest of the city. "No way to get to a job or a grocery store without a car, and if you look at income levels, many of the residents can't afford their own transportation," Park says.
More than just green space, the new trail connects suburbs, shopping centers and schools, providing an alternative route for pedestrians and cyclists traveling between downtown and East Ridge.
In 1996, the project was considered visionary, says Bobby Davenport, the trust's first Chattanooga director, who helped lay the early groundwork."People thought about getting around in cars back then, and the notion you could ride a bike from Eastgate Mall to downtown was far-fetched," he says.
But every time a new section opened, people loved it - and ultimately, community support was the engine that drove the project, Davenport says. More than 30,000 people now live within a few miles of the greenway, and one trailhead is located a half-mile from Chattanooga Airport, which could help attract more out-of-town distance cyclists, says Park.
"I believe in public service, and my decade with the trust was my version of it," says Davenport. "I've watched the greenway be built to a scale I never imagined."
Riverpoint, 51 Lost Mound Dr.
Wood Recycle Center, 3925 North Hawthorne St.
Sterchi Farm, 3000 Harrison Pike
Brainerd Levee, 4028 Shallowford Road
Cromwell Hills Connector, 3711 Youngstown Road
Camp Jordan Park, 323 Camp Jordan Parkway
Meet Trust for Public Land's new Tennessee state director
Chattanooga native Noel Durant was recently named Tennessee director of the Trust for Public Land, where he served as Chattanooga program director from 2013-2017 before moving to Colorado's Gunnison Valley to become the executive director of Crested Butte Land Trust.
Upon his return to Tennessee, Durant's new role is concentrated on using the Trust for Public Land's national resources to support land preservation initiatives across the state. Relationship-building is his primary objective in the coming year - and it's a good time for that, he says.
"Coming out of the pandemic, people realize how important these natural spaces are," says Durant.
He also sees the trust as a resource where municipalities can learn about best practices for park access and strategies to work with communities that are under-represented in the outdoor space.
"The Trust for Public Land has been known as a leader for trails, and specifically large, regional trails like the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway," he says. "We look forward to being a proactive partner with municipalities as they think about how. .. to go from a line on a map to a trail that will benefit their community for generations to come."
On the horizon
The Trust for Public Land is a participant in the national 10-minute walk campaign, working with municipal and funding partners to ensure that everyone is within a 10-minute walk of a park, says Durant. In addition to the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway - the trust's longest-standing project - here are a few of its other recent and upcoming efforts to increase access for all.
> Playground at Southside Community Park. Last summer, the trust secured funding from L.L.Bean for the creation of a new playground at Southside Community Park in the Alton Park neighborhood.
> Alton Park Connector Trail. Working alongside the Alton Park community and other neighborhoods across South Chattanooga, including East Lake and Clifton Hills, this planned 1.3-mile trail will convert an abandoned rail line into a shared-use path. The trail will begin at the Tennessee Riverwalk at Middle Street and end at the Southside Community Park. Work begins this year.
> White Oak Connector Trail. When completed, this mile-long trail will connect Stringers Ridge Park in Chattanooga to White Oak Park in Red Bank. Currently, the corridor is an unimproved access road in need of grading, drainage and stonework.
South Chickamauga Creek Greenway opening events
The Trust for Public Land will celebrate the opening of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway throughout June. Events are coordinated through The Chattery, which is handling registration at thechattery.org/southchickevents. JUNE 5 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Long Group Ride & Cold Brews with Stank City Ramblers from Ross's Landing, 201 Riverfront Parkway, to Camp Jordan and back (36 miles total). Free registration. JUNE 7 9:30-11 a.m. Beginner Tai Chi, for any fitness level, at Tennessee Riverwalk's Amnicola Marsh north entrance, 2829 Amnicola Highway. $10 suggested donation at registration. 6-7:30 p.m. All About Lavender, with gardening tips, at Sterchi Farm, 3000 Harrison Pike. $10 suggested donation at registration. JUNE 11 8-9:30 a.m. Early Bird Hike, to learn the calls of area birds, at Sterchi Farm, 3000 Harrison Pike. $10 suggested donation at registration. 11 a.m.-noon. Nature-Inspired Watercolor Abstracts painting lesson at Tennessee Railroad Museum, 4119 Cromwell Road. $10 suggested donation. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. SheBop & the Pop Up Project In the Wild, with locomotive history and a market featuring local artists, makers and vintage curators, at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, 4119 Cromwell Road. Free. JUNE 12 2-3 p.m. Planting of Poems: Poetry Workshop, using nature as inspiration, at Sterchi Farm, 3000 Harrison Pike. $10 suggested donation at registration. JUNE 15 6-7:30 p.m. Photography Walk and Talk, looking for everyday objects to photograph along the Nature Trail at Camp Jordan, 323 Camp Jordan Road. Donation requested with registration. JUNE 17 1-2:30 p.m. Nature Journaling, to learn how to develop observational skills along the trails, at Brainerd Rec Center, 1010 N. Moore Road. Donation requested with registration. JUNE 18 9 a.m.-noon. Pop-up Bicycle Shop, offering free basic maintenance and safety checks for children's bikes by White Oak Bicycle Co-op, at Cromwell Hills Access Point, 3900 Camellia Drive. 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Group Ride & Bike Maintenance with Stank City Ramblers, starting at East Chattanooga Community Center, 2409 Dodson Ave., and traveling 2 miles on low-stress streets to the Hawthorne Trailhead. Free registration. 3-6 p.m. Outdoor Chattanooga's Pedal to Paddle, to experience two adventure sports (biking and canoeing) on South Chickamauga Creek trails at Sterchi Farm, 3000 Harrison Pike, and the South Chick Blueway. Waitlist to participate. JUNE 21 1-5 p.m. Outdoor Chattanooga's South Chick Creek Greenway Bicycle Tour, a guided ride to see the greenway's mix of landscapes, starting at Tennessee Riverpark, 4301 Amnicola Highway. Free. JUNE 25 9:30-12:30 p.m. Outdoor Chattanooga's Pedal to Paddle on South Chickamauga Creek trails, at Riverpoint, 51 Lost Mound Drive. Waitlist to participate. JUNE 26 Noon-2 p.m. Kids Scavenger Hunt & Ice Cream Fun Day, with clues geared to elementary-age children, at the Adventure Trail on Sterchi Farm, 3000 Harrison Pike. - Compiled by Lisa Denton