IF YOU GO
* What: Great Eastern Trail meeting
* When: 2 p.m. Wednesday
* Where: Chattanooga City Council Assembly Room, 1000 Lindsay St., Chattanooga
* Information: www.greateasterntrail.net
It's official. The Great Eastern Trail - America's newest long-distance trail for outdoorsy folks looking to bike or walk from Florida to the Finger Lakes of New York - will stretch through Chattanooga.
What better way to celebrate Chattanooga's lure, according to backers.
"So much of Chattanooga's story is about our geography and about embracing our mountains and the river. This is just another way of being able to be connect to that," said Rick Wood, director of the Chattanooga office of the Trust for Public Land.
It's also a great opportunity and marketing tool for a city that already has a reputation as an outdoors mecca, supporters say.
Warren Devine, a Great Eastern Trail board member and a volunteer for Tennessee's Cumberland Trail Conference since 1998, said the trail will build on Chattanooga's outdoor reputation.
"Chattanooga is by far the largest city that a long-distance trail passes through," Devine said.
The Great Eastern Trail passes through nine states between New York's Finger Lakes and Alabama's Flagg Mountain. About 1,400 of the planned 1,800 miles are open for hiking.
Philip Grymes, executive director of the city's Outdoor Chattanooga division, said having a hiking trail through the city center will boost sustainable tourism and will connect city residents to a larger outdoor world.
"Imagine being able to walk out your back door in downtown Chattanooga and hike over the Cumberland Plateau all the way to western New York. Or take a detour on the Appalachian Trail and head to Maine," he said. "We'll become part of a larger, very special community that attracts smart, fit and creative outdoor people."
Devine and other trail representatives will make a presentation about the new trail plan on Wednesday at 2 p.m. in the Chattanooga City Council Assembly Room.
Devine said it's not a fundraising meeting but is intended to raise awareness -- and perhaps some volunteers to help exert clout as well as trail-building muscle.
The Great Eastern Trail overlies a series of already constructed or under-construction trails, such as the 300-mile Cumberland State Scenic Trail and the Pinhoti Trail. In between those are six big gaps; Chattanooga is the fifth gap.
Eventually, the plan is for the Great Eastern Trail to run all the way through Alabama to connect with the Florida National Scenic Trail.
For now, much of the Chattanooga section follows a route made by Jim Schroeder, a Murfreesboro volunteer, using a few roads as temporary walkways while connections are built between the Soddy-Daisy area of the Cumberland Trail and the Tennessee Riverpark.
"Our preferred route is using the greenways system but, while connectors are being built, we've designated an interim trail along city streets," Devine said.
Eventually the trail will follow the Riverwalk into St. Elmo and connect with the Guild Trail over Lookout Mountain. It will go down the other side along Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park trails and eventually link to the Georgia and Alabama Pinhoti Trail.
Marty Dominy, a board member of the Georgia Pinhoti Trail Organization, said the trail eventually will pass through Lyerly, Ga., to meet the 300-mile Pinhoti Trail and cross into Alabama.
"There's a lot of this that is in the paper-and-study phase, but it will be coming together in the next few years," Dominy said.
The Great Eastern Trail is a wonderful alternative to the Appalachian Trail, which now is beginning to be overused.
"Will it ever be, in terms of through-hikers, as popular as the Appalachian Trail? No. But it will put focus on places like Chattanooga," he said.
Dominy said the new trail's city accessibility will give it a different feel and will appeal to an additional kind of outdoor enthusiast -- local ones as well as out-of-town ones -- who are looking for outdoor experiences to improve their quality of life.
"The outdoors as a quality of life is an important component of a community," he said. "It may not be as important as schools and hospitals, but it is still important."