Contributed photo by Nathalie Dupré

Since on-site work first began on Walden's Ridge Park in fall 2020, the excitement in and around Chattanooga for the project has only grown. Anticipation for the climbing, hiking and mountain biking opportunities the park promises has outdoor enthusiasts throughout southeast Tennessee and beyond waiting for the park's grand opening, currently slated for early 2022.

"We work on all kinds of conservation projects across the state," says Chad Wykle, southeast director for The Land Trust for Tennessee. "Walden's Ridge Park is just a perfect combination of the elements needed for conservation to happen: recreation, partnerships, volunteerism, a desire to see the permanent protection of public open space for the benefit of current and future generations, and an engaged community to help raise the necessary funds."

Work on the park has steadily progressed. Phase 1 projects recently wrapped up, and now work is shifting focus to Phase 2: flagging trails, parking lot design, collaborating with the county on signage and long-term maintenance, and building out sustainable and easy-to-navigate trails to the bouldering area. And, of course, fundraising.

"I'm afraid the fundraising efforts aren't quite over yet," says Les Warnock, president of SORBA Chattanooga. "Thanks to the incredible community support out there, we raised what we needed for Phase 1, but now we've got to fund Phase 2 projects to get over the finish line."

That finish line for SORBA includes continuing work on connector trails and the upper gravity trails for mountain biking — making Walden's Ridge Park the only system in the region promising a riding experience that has multiple downhill-only trails.

The rock-climbing features of the park are likewise coming together through the work of volunteers, who also happen to be climbers themselves.

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Contributed photo by Brent Sanders

"Thanks to the work of these volunteers, in the past few months we've been able to open up access to about half a dozen boulders so far and do erosion control at those sites," says Andrea Hassler, executive director of the Southeast Climbers Coalition.

Due to being situated on the hillside of Signal Mountain, volunteers with the group have put in retaining walls around the base of the boulders to prevent soil erosion as visitors set up their landing areas, climb and hang out.

"As we've worked in the park, we've had to get creative to translate lines on a map from the master plan to actually getting on the ground to start the work," Hassler says. "Things can be a lot more rocky or difficult to navigate, trees can fall during storms, and in those situations, you just have to pivot and adjust."

"You know, there is no YouTube tutorial for how to build a park," laughs Taft Sibley, project manager for Walden's Ridge Park with the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, "but that means the most fun part about all of this has been the learning process. Going into it, we didn't necessarily know what hurdles we might encounter, but this group has been really great about adapting."

That group is one of the most remarkable things about Walden's Ridge Park, comprising community partners, nonprofit entities, departments from the city of Chattanooga, and even Scout troops and members of the military.

"I've never seen anything unfold the way this is," Sibley says. "So many people from so many different areas and levels of interest coming together to turn a mountainside into a place where people can gather and explore the outdoors."

Warnock believes "this project will become a model for collaboration for future projects in the region, because this is the magic that happens when a group of people who care about their community come together to create something for everyone to enjoy."

To contribute to the ongoing funding needs in order to complete Walden's Ridge Park or to keep up with the park's progress, visit If you're interested in learning more about the groups that have joined forces to build the park and how this project is expected to benefit the southeast Tennessee community, be sure to check out upcoming episodes and interviews on Day Fire Podcast, Nooga Radio's Explore More Fridays show, and other news outlets in Chattanooga throughout the month of June.