Contributed graphic / This map shows the path of the boardwalk that will soon connect The Commons to City Hall, Imagination Station and the Collegedale Greenway.

For those using wheelchairs, accessing trails can be challenging. And it is often unsafe after rainfall, said David Barto, executive director of the Collegedale Tomorrow Foundation.

That lack of accessibility is something Barto said he has seen while walking the trails at The Commons in Collegedale.

"You see a lot of people with disabilities out on the greenway, looking at the creek. Without a hard surface, it's hard to get folks with disabilities out into nature," he said.

That will soon change.

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Contributed rendering / The mile-and-a-half-long boardwalk thought The Commons in Collegedale will be a hard surface to allow for a more accessible trail.

About three years ago, Collegedale Tomorrow received a $300,000 grant from an anonymous donor for greenway expansion. Last week, construction began on a wooden boardwalk and concrete path through the open spaces of The Commons.

"For folks who have disabilities or elderly, they can go out on this boardwalk and be in the middle of a natural area without having to be off on a trail that wouldn't be conducive for them to get out there," Barto said.

The boardwalk will begin at the sidewalk on Swinyar Drive between City Hall and The Commons. The wooden path will lead to a new concrete trail that runs along a tributary of Wolftever Creek.

The boardwalk will also connect the City Hall campus and The Commons through a short T-arm. Currently, visitors have to walk through the parking lot of either City Hall or The Commons to access the other side and the popular amenities located there.

"It's not a safe way to cut through the loop," Barto said of the current setup. "[The boardwalk] will allow folks to have a nice loop without running through the parking lots."

In February, a survey administered by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's outdoor recreation department found that two of the top priorities for Collegedale respondents were maintaining current parks and developing new greenways.

The project also includes three new picnic pavilions and wildlife-drawing additions to the area. Barto said the plan is to install birdhouses throughout The Commons, and plant prairie grasses, wildflowers and bushes that attract songbirds around the tributary.

He estimates the boardwalk will be open early next year.

In an unrelated project, the city allocated $43,750 in November toward a 350-foot sidewalk through Veterans Memorial Park. The greenway spur will be a shortcut that users can take to avoid going through the entire 3-mile course or turning around and doubling back. Depending on weather, Public Works Director Eric Sines estimates that project will be completed by early January 2020.

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