Chattanooga pursues $20 million for Alton Park trail extension to Clifton Hills Elementary

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Noel Durant, Tennessee State Director for The Trust for Public Land, speaks outside of East Side Elementary School in July.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Noel Durant, Tennessee State Director for The Trust for Public Land, speaks outside of East Side Elementary School in July.

Seeking financial assistance from the federal government, city officials hope to expand a multiuse trail that would link South Chattanooga residents to jobs, schools and food in an area primed for growth.

After falling just short last year, Chattanooga will take another stab at pursuing money from the U.S. Department of Transportation to extend the Alton Park Connector 2.4 miles from the Borough 33 apartments on West 33rd Street to Clifton Hills Elementary School, crossing Chattanooga Creek and Rossville Boulevard. The Alton Park Connector is a shared-use path built on a former rail line.

The trail would also tie into the Tennessee Riverwalk, which runs through the site proposed for a new Chattanooga Lookouts stadium before eventually reaching downtown's riverfront. In the long term, officials aim to eventually extend the walkway beyond Clifton Hills Elementary School to East Lake Park, although that section is not part of the recent federal funding request.

"It's about linking that community, which has been isolated and has obviously suffered some tremendous economic traumas and challenges over the years, to the city's broader economy," Scott Martin, administrator of the Chattanooga Department of Parks & Outdoors, said in a phone call. "The trail is a key multimodal piece of that."

(READ MORE: $17.5 million federal grant would help fund extension to Chattanooga's Alton Park Connector)

Earlier this month, the Chattanooga City Council authorized staff to pursue approximately $20 million from the federal Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program, which last year awarded more than a billion dollars to projects in cities across the United States. The Trust for Public Land, which is leading the planning and development of the Alton Park trail, is also seeking funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.


"In a nutshell, we are exhausting every opportunity we can to bring federal infrastructure funding to support this project," Noel Durant, Tennessee state director for Trust for Public Land, said in a phone call. "This feels like a very significant moment of opportunity, and so we're pursuing every option we can."

Additionally, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Southeast Tennessee, has requested $6.4 million for the project in the federal budget.

"Arising from long-term community engagement, this connection will provide a significant pedestrian and bicycle connection for the dense residential communities that surround it, expanding access to the employment, education, recreation and daily shopping needs along Broad Street and further along the Riverwalk into downtown," Fleischmann wrote in a letter last year requesting the funds.

Durant said the Department of Transportation typically sees more than a thousand applications per year for the RAISE grant, and the more competitive ones are often supported by professional consultants, which can costs tens of thousands of dollars. Because they believe in the project, Durant said, the Trust for Public Land has gifted that work to the city.

"It's very rare that your proposal is accepted in the first round that you submit," Durant said. "It's a little bit of a long term game where you invest and you iterate and you build on what you're learning through the application process."

Last year, the city's application for the Alton Park Connector reached the Secretary of Transportation's desk, Durant said, meaning it was highly ranked. However, Chattanooga had in 2022 obtained $25 million to replace the aging Wilcox Bridge, and Durant said it's extremely difficult for cities to receive back-to-back funding through the RAISE program.

(READ MORE: Negotiators 'extremely close' on Chattanooga's first community benefits agreement, Lookouts say)

Chattanooga leaders intend to use future tax revenue collected from the increased value of properties in a 470-acre district to help fund a new minor league baseball stadium in the South Broad District. Officials have also envisioned using any extra revenue to finance the Alton Park connector. The federal funding, however, could serve as a replacement, and Durant noted it would also be available sooner.

There would be a local match not to exceed approximately $4 million, according to a resolution passed Feb. 20.

Maria Noel, a member of the South Chattanooga Community Association, said the project as a whole will offer a way to link East Lake's burgeoning Hispanic community with Alton Park, which is predominantly African American, and St. Elmo, which is largely white.

"You're connecting three different cultures," Noel said in a phone call. "It opens up that avenue for people to connect. ... We're doing that in neighborhood associations, but this is a physical manifestation of that."

Noel said the Alton Park neighborhood has historically been underserved and underappreciated. There hasn't been significant investment in housing, parks or commercial development over the years. The greenway, however, will open up access to businesses along Broad Street and new development officials expect to see on the former Wheland Foundry/U.S. Pipe property, where the stadium will go.

The trail would also run near Crabtree Farms, which has a community garden available to people living in the immediate area. With a portion of the area being a food desert, Noel said, that will make it easier for residents to access healthy meal options.

Ted Griffin is the chief operating officer for the Chattanooga School of Excellence, a public charter school formed in 2011 that recently opened a high school program in Alton Park's former John P. Franklin Middle School. The building would also be near the new trail extension, which Griffin said could offer opportunities for exercise and education.

"That's a great addition to the neighborhood because it brings life and vitality and social interaction," Griffin, who is also the vice president of the South Chattanooga Neighborhood Association, said in a phone call. "We as a school want to be engaged as a fixture of the community."

Before it closed about 20 years ago, John P. Franklin Middle School was a social hub, Griffin said, and leaders at the Chattanooga Charter School for Excellence heard plenty of excitement when they announced plans to open a school there, he said.

"We had an open house, (and) we had people crying when they walked the halls and said, 'Hey, this used to be my locker. I used to play basketball here.'" Griffin said. "Just hearing their testimonies, that's the atmosphere I hope we will continue."

The president of the South Chattanooga Community Association, Damien Vinson, spent part of his childhood in Alton Park and moved back to area in 2006. Between new housing and the plans for the stadium, Vinson sees renewed interest in that part of the city.

"People are coming to South Chattanooga, now — not scared to come to South Chattanooga," Vinson said in a phone call.

South Chattanooga is among the unhealthiest places in the city, he noted, and building the connector could also boost interest in exercise. The healthiest community in Tennessee, Lookout Mountain, sits just a half-mile above Alton Park, which Mayor Tim Kelly's One Chattanooga plan says has the second worst health outcomes in the state.

"From a health standpoint, it will definitely be beneficial," Vinson said. "Not only is it going to look good, but it's going to give people the opportunity to get themselves better. I think that's something that's getting overlooked in this."

Vinson expects the new Lookouts stadium will have a positive influence, noting new jobs spurred by the project could employ nearby residents and local students. Transportation is among the biggest obstacles for people living in that area, he added.

Vinson also sees opportunities for investments in education and enhanced sports programming at The Howard School.

"It's putting the light back into a community that's been in the dark for a long time," Vinson said.

Contact David Floyd at or 423-757-6249.

  photo  Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / A section of trail that will connect the Tennessee Riverwalk with Alton Park, seen here in February 2023, has been constructed in front of Borough 33 apartments along West 33rd Street.

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