Opinion: Firing range hinders Moccasin Bend’s potential. Get it off

Getty Images/ A vista of the Tennessee River and Moccasin Bend in Chattanooga.

The rustling of tree leaves as the wind passes through them.

The crunching of fallen leaves and sticks as hikers make their way through the Blue Blazes trail on Moccasin Bend.

The canopy of green, red and brown overhead is gorgeous.

All of this can be found at Moccasin Bend.

With the burst of fall colors comes a jarring sound — loud, intimidating ammo rounds being fired at a gun range in the same vicinity. Kinda disrupts the image, huh?

Imagine attempting to take in the beauty that the land offers and having to hear a continuous barrage of gunfire.

Progress stagnates

The law enforcement training facility, which houses the gun range, has been on the Moccasin Bend property for years. It's been a point of contention for community leaders and residents, who want it relocated.

"It's going to move. The plan is for it to move," Mayor Tim Kelly said in an interview Wednesday. "The question is, where and when?"

As positive as it may seem to hear the mayor say the firing range will come off Moccasin Bend, the worry is the uncertainty about the timeline, especially when an alternative site is already identified, and has been for several years.

City and Hamilton County officials in March 2021 announced plans for an indoor firing range, the cost of which would be shared in equal amounts by both governments, on property owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

"We understand that the City/County are continuing to evaluate the scope and timing of their project," TVA officials said in a statement last week. "After we receive a revised project plan and any requested information, TVA can continue our portion of the project review."

Kelly says the TVA site is still an option but he's open to other locations.

The mayor understands the urgency but wants to make the best decision.

"I want to make sure that it's the right site because there's not much point in moving the range before the hospital moves. It's not as though we'll be able to flip the switch. There will have to be some environmental cleanup around there with all the lead," he said. Still "sooner is better than later."

Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp says that the cost to build the facility might not be worth it.

"I don't think it's viable there," Wamp said. "I don't think [estimates of] $40 million would be well received by the public; that's far in excess of what it should cost."

The county mayor said other alternatives should be explored.

"Cost estimates [for the TVA site] are through the roof," Wamp said. "They were reasonable when they began; city engineering folks say they've gone up, up and up."

Kelly and Wamp are on the same page, both saying that the gun range needs to come off Moccasin Bend. What's not clear is what are the next steps — specifically.

Transformation stalled

Moccasin Bend should be well on the way to becoming the national park advocates envisioned 20 years ago.

But it's not. Government works slowly, a reality both Kelly and Wamp confront every day. Yes, there are many other priorities: curtailing violence, recruiting business and industry, building news schools, fixing roads, among others. But in this case, a plan was set forth. Options were and are on the table.

Let's not forget that completing the vision of a complete national park on Moccasin Bend will pay dividends for generations. There are vast economic, cultural, historical and recreational benefits that we cannot let languish.

  photo  Staff Photo by Angela Lewis Foster Officer Joe Sabba walks past targets on Sept. 3, 2015 at the police firing range on Moccasin Bend Road.