More than 180 people sought seats on new Chattanooga parks board

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Alicyn Britt slides down the hill in Renaissance Park on a sheet of cardboard on Oct. 11.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Alicyn Britt slides down the hill in Renaissance Park on a sheet of cardboard on Oct. 11.

In Madrid, Spain, where Shelby Meek lived for about five years, parks were a shared space where visitors could feel embedded in their community.

"I missed that when we moved back, especially with young kids," Meek, a Chattanooga resident, said in a phone interview.

Meek sees that collective spirit at Coolidge Park and in the upcoming plans for Montague Park, and she's eager for more neighborhood parks with that kind of communal atmosphere. It's a priority she hopes to encourage as part of a new 15-member volunteer board, which city leaders formed to help shape the future of Chattanooga's parks and outdoors system.

"I think Chattanooga is really well positioned to become the gold standard of the idea of 'a city in a park,' especially with the close proximity to natural resources and outdoor activities," Meek said.

After sifting through more than 180 applicants, officials have officially approved the members of the city's new parks advisory committee. Nine members were appointed by the Chattanooga City Council, one from each member's district, and six were appointed by Mayor Tim Kelly, which includes one appointee, Lillie Barrie, under the age of 21.

"It's exponentially more people than we have ever seen apply for any other city board," Chris Anderson, the mayor's senior adviser for legislative initiatives, said in a text.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga plans to add hundreds of acres of new park space in coming decades)

Scott Martin, the administrator of the city's department of parks and outdoors, said he was blown away by the interest in the volunteer positions. The committee will act as an advisory board to the City Council and provide city leaders with a far more deliberate, resident-empowered engagement process, he said.

"The ability to have a group of residents that are slowing us down, talking through things thoughtfully, building in more public input, will hopefully lead us to better decision-making," Martin said in a phone call.

New Parks Board

There are 15 members of the new parks board, nine appointed from a council district and six by the mayor.

— District 1: Robert Geier.

— District 2: Anna Hall.

— District 3: Terry Lee.

— District 4: Paul Darr.

— District 5: Dank Hawkins Jr.

— District 6: Melissa Lozano Lykes.

— District 7: Adam Kinsey.

— District 8: Shelby Meek.

— District 9: Angie Reed-Thomas.

— Mayor: Stephen Culp.

— Mayor: Linda Moss Mines.

— Mayor: Erika Roberts.

— Mayor: Dreama Campbell.

— Mayor: Meghan Ploch.

— Mayor: Lillie Barrie.

Source: City of Chattanooga

The board's meetings will occur once a month, and Mitch Silver, who served for seven years as New York City's parks commissioner, will join the committee in the spring for an orientation session.

Martin said cities with strong parks committees tend to have stronger park systems. Creating the volunteer board was one of the goals outlined in a new parks and outdoors plan, which also aims to make it easier for residents to walk or bike to natural spaces.

In the short term, the document calls for addressing deferred maintenance across the system, building seven new neighborhood parks, creating 16 miles of new greenway trails and preserving hundreds of acres of vacant city-owned land for natural habitats.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga leaders break ground on new Lynnbrook Park, plan fall 2024 completion)

Meek and her children regularly walk and cycle around their downtown neighborhood. Accessibility isn't just proximity, she noted. It's also a question of whether there's enough crosswalks or bike infrastructure available to safely travel. As Chattanooga grows, she said, Meek also wants to ensure developers don't overlook green spaces.

Erika Roberts, a local poet, frequently writes in Coolidge, Montague and Sheila Jennings parks, where she often obtains inspiration for her work, she said. One of her poems appears in the opening pages of the city's new parks and outdoors plan.

"Hearing music, hearing the chatter of laughter, hearing kids get off the bus, the brakes," she said in a phone call, describing the ambiance of Sheila Jennings Park. "You hear those things in a rhythmic kind of way."

Roberts said she wants to see more artists using those spaces and agreed one key is accessibility, which includes embracing diversity in the city's parks.

"Historically, we had a Black park and a white park," Roberts said. "That doesn't exist anymore, but we had it."

That history may have a lingering effect on whether residents feel welcome, she said.

"We want diversity in these spaces because that's what makes us who we are," she said.

Another new member, Linda Moss Mines, also serves as the city and county historian and still has a working farm in the Upper Cumberland. She's keenly interested in conservation and recognizes the benefits of green spaces for children and older adults. She recalls taking her daughter on numerous vacations to national parks in the United States and Canada.

"There's something very grounding about being outside," she said. "I think humans are meant to be surrounded by the outdoor world — toes in the grass, seeing trees — but also having a responsibility for caring for those spaces."

It's appealing to think of residents in Chattanooga having a park within walking distance of their homes, she said. Mines lived in Lookout Valley for 20 years and recently moved to Hixson. Both places have offered fairly accessible ways for her to commune with the natural world, she said, whether that's visiting the Fallen Five Memorial or finding a spot to watch the Tennessee River.

"That's not true in every community, and quite frankly, it should be," Mines said.

Mines tries to ensure her grandchildren get as much time as possible at her farm outside Cookeville, but she noted it's two hours away.

"I want them to always be connected to their environment," she said.

Contact David Floyd at or 423-757-6249.

  photo  Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Dalewood students Abiel Mason and Rashad Daniel clear weeds from a flowerbed. Students with Bridge Chattanooga volunteered with the Chattanooga Park Stewards to clean up the landscape at the Brainerd Recreation Center in 2021. The program serves Dalewood Middle School students.

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