Hamilton County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday morning to allow the county mayor to accept at a future date a tract of land from the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy to be used as a county park.
The property sits between the W Road atop Signal Mountain and Mountain Creek Road below and adjoins the former Quarry Golf Course. It is being developed by a coalition of nonprofit groups to create the first property in the county with downhill mountain biking, bouldering, hiking and potentially 200 acres of green space.
"Its position on the mountain is unique," conservancy Executive Director Tim Laramore said. "It's on a long slope and it has a really nice spring through the property. It has features that we don't see in other parks. We're really excited and ready to get to work. This means we can start enacting our vision."
It will likely be 2-3 years before the land is donated. There is nothing now on the property other than trees, dirt, rocks and some trash that has been dumped throughout the years. The private partners will create recreational space and then hand it off to the county to operate. The county will be responsible for any construction that isn't directly involved with the trail system. That could include parking, restrooms and picnic areas.
The project is being led by a partnership of The Land Trust for Tennessee, Southern Off-Road Bicycling Association, Southeastern Climbing Coalition, the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy and the Access Fund. The groups are excited about the land's proximity to downtown Chattanooga and its easy access for a large portion of the region's population. It also will provide what SORBA sees as a need for the recreational community.
The new park is located in what SORBA Chattanooga President Kevin Smith calls a "trail-poor area" near Signal Mountain and Hixson where there are not many mountain bike trails. The park also will feature the first downhill mountain bike trail system in the county.
"This opportunity provides Chattanooga the ability to have a progressive trail unlike anything we currently have in our trail system," Smith said.
The county commission discussed the resolution during last week's meeting, giving commissioners a full week to continue to look into the proposal before voting. Commissioner Tim Boyd raised questions about the cost of maintaining the property and potential liability, but he was pleased enough with the answers to vote in favor of the resolution.
The outdoors groups believe the property's upkeep will be more similar to Stringer's Ridge than Enterprise South Nature Park. The nature park has rangers assigned to the property, paved roads and extensive parking. Stringer's Ridge has gravel parking, no rangers and some directional signs. The partners will oversee trail maintenance and expansion even after the property is donated.
"We look forward to working closely with our partners at Hamilton County to make this a dynamic community resource and outdoor recreation destination for the region," said Emily Parish, vice president of conservation for The Land Trust for Tennessee. "This is a great step towards our collective goal of creating a multi-use park just a short drive from Chattanooga."
Now that the future conveyance of land has been approved, the nonprofit partners will turn their focus to soliciting bids for park design. Once the designs are finalized, they will use their expertise and help from professional trail builders to develop the land. When finished, it will be the 17th county park.
The conservancy received 100 acres of the property from a private landowner in 2006. The family, which has requested via the conservancy to remain private, donated the land without public access purposefully for conservation purposes. The family has been a key decision maker in the land's use and agreed to donate an additional 100 acres to allow for the creation of the park. Conservancy officials expect the agreement to be completed in the coming weeks.
"These next few weeks are going to be exciting," Laramore said. "A lot of work is really coming to fruition."
County commissioner Jim Fields, who represents the district where the property is located, seconded Joe Graham's motion to accept the property and supports the project. However, he declined to comment on it or the addition of a county park.