Hamilton County's first horse-only public trail system is under construction and expected to open this spring at Enterprise South Nature Park.
The contractor, North Carolina-based Trail Dynamics, has completed more than 3.5 miles of the 10-mile system. An exact opening date has not been determined but is expected to be in the coming months.
"The addition of the equestrian trails at Enterprise South is another important piece of infrastructure for our community," Outdoor Chattanooga Executive Director Philip Grimes said. "Easy access to the natural environment and recreation resources is what separates Chattanooga from all other outdoor cities."
The trails were planned for the property years ago before the land was transferred to the city and county in 2004 after being used as an ammunition plant.
The plan hit "delays from everything involved in the project," Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Director Tom Lamb said. The county had to secure funding, conduct environmental assessments, navigate power line easements and a Colonial Pipeline easement while working through the legal requirements to secure the space.
"It was part of the master plan for this property before it was ever transferred," Lamb said. "Having an area set aside for equestrian trails has been on the list of items for this property for quite a while, so we're glad to be able to make it happen."
The department received a Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation in 2015 to pay for much of the expansion. The state fund pays 50 percent of the grant and the city and county pay the rest — about $110,000 each.
The trail system will feature an interconnected eastern loop, which is finished, a western loop and an extended tail off the western loop.
Enterprise South already boasts walking trails, multi-use trails designed for mountain bikes, wheelchair accessible trails and a scenic driving path. More than 150,000 people visit the park annually.
"Hamilton County is so unique, and if you look at the topography and all the opportunities you have with hiking and boating and fishing and rock climbing and mountain biking, this just adds to those amenities," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said. "Some of us enjoy golfing and things of that nature, and there's obviously a segment of the population that enjoys horseback riding."
The equestrian trails are north of the existing trail system on hilly land that has been previously inaccessible to the public.
Flat dirt trails can create sustainability issues, as water tends to puddle and cause erosion, said Ed Sutton, who owns Trail Dynamics with his wife Sophia. The hilly terrain and proper design allows rainwater to run off the trail.
Sutton expects trail construction to take approximately five more weeks, and crews are on schedule despite a rainy stretch, he said.