Walden’s Ridge and Aetna Mountain welcome new trails for cycling, hiking and running

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Cyclists ride the trails at the newly opened Waldens Ridge Park.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Cyclists ride the trails at the newly opened Waldens Ridge Park.

Cycling options for area mountain-biking enthusiasts have undergone a massive expansion with the opening of two new trail systems within minutes of downtown Chattanooga.

New trail systems on Walden's Ridge and Aetna Mountain had grand openings on consecutive days at the end of September, opening more than 15 miles of new trails for cyclists of all levels. This expansion of trail systems in Hamilton County is expected to help boost the already-strong economic impact of cycling, which brings in almost $7 million and thousands of visitors each year.

Both new trail systems were developed and built by International Mountain Biking Association's (IMBA) Trail Solutions, which is one of the country's premier organizations for mountain-bike trail construction.

The Aetna Mountain system is a multi-use system with almost 4 miles of single-track trails developed by the Tennessee River Gorge Trust. In addition to cycling, the trails can be used for hiking and trail-running with options for beginners to intermediate cyclists.

"This project was designed with community input every step of the way," Tennessee River Gorge Trust executive director Rick Huffines said. "Chattanoogans asked for world-class, sustainable mountain-biking trails that cater to all skill and accessibility levels, and we are overjoyed to officially open these trails to the public."

The trailhead for the Aetna Mountain trails can be accessed on River Gorge Drive, with signs in the Black Creek neighborhood and parking at the top of Aetna Mountain.

The 4-mile section of trails that opened in September is just the first phase of a bigger project on Aetna Mountain, and the Tennessee River Gorge Trust's ultimate goal is to provide more than 10 miles of single-track trails on the site.

The opening of Walden's Ridge Park, located on the side of Signal Mountain near the W Road, is the culmination of eight years of effort by the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, Hamilton County Parks and Recreation and other partners, including the Land Trust for Tennessee, The Southeastern Climbers Coalition and the Chattanooga chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycling Association.

The 200-acre park features 12 miles of downhill cycling and multi-use trails plus expanded areas for rock climbing and other uses on a heavily sloped area near the W Road and Mountain Creek Road.

Walden's Ridge Park is unique in that it brings downhill — or gravity — trails to the Chattanooga area, a fast-growing type of mountain biking that had been underserved locally until now.

"There's been a push in Tennessee and across the country for directional gravity trails that are mountain-bike optimized, and this is going to be Chattanooga's offering," Josh Olson, IMBA's director of construction and operations, said in an interview last year. "It definitely fills a gap in Chattanooga's mountain-biking trail network."

After completion, Walden's Ridge Park ownership was transferred to Hamilton County, and the park will be managed and maintained by Hamilton County Parks and Recreation, giving local residents unlimited use of a first-class, publicly owned trail system.

"This new mountainside county park is one the most unique parks in America," Hamilton County mayor Weston Wamp said in a released statement. "This project is the latest example of the creativity of the county's talented Parks and Recreation department and their efforts to make Hamilton County a wonderful place to live and raise a family."

For trail maps and more information about the Aetna Mountain trail system, go to trgt.org/aetna-trails. Information about Walden's Ridge Park can be found at waldensridgepark.com and at the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation website.

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