The Trust for Public Land celebrates outdoor connections.
The air is clear and cool by the creek. Long-legged waterbirds make a rushing sound as they take flight from where they were fishing near the bank. The sound of traffic fades and your own footsteps are the only sounds you hear, except for the birds and the high-pitched trill of the season’s first frogs. Here is spring on South Chickamauga Creek.
“The main reason the Trust for Public Land (TPL) came to Chattanooga back in 1996 was to build the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway,” says Rick Wood. “Some folks from the Tallahassee office helped open the local branch.” Recruited especially for the project, Wood has been here 16 years. “I thought I’d only be here five years. I can’t believe the time has passed so quickly.” TPL’s Regional Projects Manager Don Morrow made successful proposals to the Lyndhurst Foundation and began gathering pieces of property to create a significant connector to Chattanooga’s Riverwalk, also known as the Tennessee Riverpark. Now, years later with miles of greenway rolling along river, creeks and ridges, and the South Chick Creek Greenway nearing completion—all that remains is a wild three-mile stretch.
The section from Camp Jordon, along the creek and across the Brainerd Levee was first to be assembled. The greenway easement near Osborne Center included a wetlands area and has linked the popular East Ridge public park. The trail actually goes under busy Interstate-75.
Working on the last missing segments that will complete the full 12-mile South Chick Greenway to connect with the 13-mile Riverwalk, TPL organized its own fundraising events for the finale, including a 190-foot bridge. It is an integral part of the connection. The bridge was floated up the Tennessee River by barge from Fort Payne, Alabama where it was constructed and was put into place in November 2015—one of the last steps toward connecting more Chattanoogans to parks and green spaces.
With the help of three fishing boats and a tugboat, the $800,000 bridge was carefully placed by crane at the connector. The South Chick Creek Greenway grand opening was held in April.
The Trust for Public Land raised $2.6 million, including the price of the bridge, from private partners. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported in a November 7th, 2015 article that the Chattanooga City Council unanimously approved a request by the Chattanooga Department of Transportation allowing the department to seek a $774,360 state grant to help with completion of the greenway.
Both Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations have provided funds, matching grants and have leveraged government funds to accomplish goals for the connector. “Private to public funding is about 50-50,” says Wood.
There are roughly 30,000 people living within a 10-minute walk of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway, which will afford residents easy access to canoe and kayaking, walking, running and biking recreation.
Boardwalks span low areas so the connector does not interfere with the natural riparian forests of the creekside. Those forests are often inundated by high water and they help control sediment, reduce the damaging effects of flooding and aid in stabilizing stream banks.
Lyndhurst President Bruz Clark suggests that without TPL’s involvement the connector would not have materialized. “Through TPL’s work the South Chick Creek connector opens up a different perspective and an opportunity for outdoor activities. It’s also a link to our neighbors in East Ridge,” says Clark. “And, this access actually creates opportunities for new investment.”
In fact, TPL has impacted the community in many positive ways. The organization has also been instrumental in preserving the mountain slopes of battlefield property and property encompassed by the 956-acre Moccasin Bend National Archeological District. The district is significant due to its occupation by Native American groups of the Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian periods (inhabited for 12,000 years) and more recently as a Civil War battlefield. TPL has worked collaboratively with the National Park Service and other organizations.
The National Park Service received a 2016 active trails grant that will underwrite the cost of a trail connector to 50-acre Sherman Reservation on Missionary Ridge above Glass Street. The Southeast Conservation Corps and the National Park Service will build the trail connecting the Glass Street community, first to their neighborhood parks, and eventually on to the South Chick Creek as part of a long-range plan. Teal Thibaud, outreach director for the Glass Street Collective, says “It’s a win-win for everyone.”
In 2007, developers announced plans to construct 500 condominiums on 92-acres along Stringer’s Ridge overlooking downtown Chattanooga. The community responded by turning to The Trust for Public Land and other area conservation groups to help save the historic landmark.
While the development proposal was withdrawn in the face of local opposition, the land remained unprotected. In the fall of 2008, a campaign was launched that would eventually protect all 92 acres of the ridge. In fall 2013, the park opened to the public with a network of trails for cycling and hiking only minutes from downtown Chattanooga.
The overall value of a project like the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway is hard to measure, yet transformative. Clark says another positive impact is the companion Blueways System that offers new canoe and kayak launches throughout the creek’s watershed, even into Georgia, ultimately connecting with the Tennessee River Blueway. All these opportunities for cyclists, pedestrians and paddlers make for a remarkable lifestyle.
“When we build something for the entire community like this, it’s really satisfying,” says Wood. “It’s really awesome to have a role in the transformation.”
See tpl.org for more information or to become a member.
Photography courtesy of the Trust for Public Land and the Lyndhurst Foundation