As the city aims to boost grant funding and encourage resident engagement about local parks, Chattanooga officials may renew an agreement with the national nonprofit Trust for Public Land, which is part of a partnership with the organization extending some 20 years.
The Chattanooga City Council will vote Tuesday on a $150,000 conservation services agreement that would last from July 1 to June 30, 2024.
Scott Martin, the city's administrator for the Department of Parks and Outdoors, said the funding would enable the organization to assign three employees to assist with park listening tours, national grant writing efforts and a pilot program to convert schoolyards into community parks.
With Chattanooga preparing to embark on a major, long-term expansion of its parks infrastructure, Martin said few cities have this kind of supportive relationship with Trust for Public Land, which has historically received strong financial aid from local private philanthropies like the Lyndhurst Foundation.
Trust for Public Land also has a presence in major cities like San Francisco, Boston, Cleveland and Atlanta, Martin said.
"Chattanooga is like the smallest city where they have a field office and work at this level — super rare," Martin said in an interview.
During the past 10 years — when Martin said the city didn't have a proper stand-alone parks department — Trust for Public Land "kind of kept the torch alive." The group was involved in land acquisition for the South Chickamauga Greenway and the Tennessee Riverwalk, he said.
The organization has also taken the lead on developing the Alton Park connector, a plan to convert an old rail line into a walking and biking pathway. The project would link residents of the Alton Park neighborhood to more than 25 miles of trails.
Trust for Public Land will also help the city gather information about needs at Provence Street Park and Montague Park. Mayor Tim Kelly's budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which the City Council approved last week, includes $1.3 million for the development of a new park on Provence Street in Brainerd.
Additionally, grant funding made available through the partnership would help finance improvements envisioned in the mayor's new parks and outdoors plan, which is the city's first comprehensive update in years. It will also be up for a vote in front of the City Council on Tuesday.
Chattanooga leaders envision adding hundreds of acres of new park space over the coming decades. In the short term, that involves fixing 19 existing city parks, creating 11 new parks, adding 16 miles of new greenways and setting aside 560 acres of city land as ecological preserves.
Martin, who was confirmed in January 2022 as head of the city's parks department, said Trust for Public Land's presence in Chattanooga was a major reason why he took the job here.
"It just gives you this outsized influence and ability to play with national donors and talk at a national level that you don't have with cities our size," Martin said.
The council will also cast its final vote Tuesday on updates to Chattanooga's air pollution control ordinance, which would ensure the city's regulations are in line with those enforced by the state and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Ron Drumeller, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau, said it's unlikely the changes will result in a significant effect on the average city or county resident.
"It's just a formality for us to update our rules," he said in a phone call.
On a day-to-day basis, the bureau is in charge of tracking regional air quality and managing industrial permits for about 180 facilities, which also includes conducting annual inspections. The agency issues permits for burning and regulates approximately 200 gas stations.
"We have come a long way in the last several decades where Chattanooga was rated the dirtiest city as far as air quality back back in 1969," Drumeller said. "Now, we're one of the best."
CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS
The Chattanooga City Council meets at 6 p.m. every Tuesday in chambers at 1000 Lindsay St. The council also meets at 3:30 p.m. every Tuesday to review its agenda, which can be found at chattanooga.gov/city-council.
The usual meetings will be canceled July 4 in observance of Independence Day.