Opinion: The South Chickamauga Creek Greenway gem may be years behind schedule, but the good stuff is worth the wait

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The words in Friday’s paper were startling, though not everyone realized it.

“After 25 years of work,” the report states, “the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway is complete, stretching 12 miles from Camp Jordan to the Tennessee Riverwalk.”

In fact, the beginnings of the $16 million greenway date back at least 20 years to the Brainerd Levee, which was completed in 1980 – after many delays – following the devastating weekend flood. Patrick’s Day end in 1973. The footpath created atop the seawall from Shallowford Road to Brainerd Road gave what became the Greenway a good head start.

A 1993 Chattanooga Times article compared what was beginning to happen with trails through the area to a spider weaving a web of connected linear parks.

The same article noted that proponents already believed “that a series of linear parks along stream corridors would preserve the environment, give wildlife a refuge in urban areas, and provide some people with a good source of outdoor recreation”.

Two years earlier, in 1991, the National Park Service (NPS) saw such potential for linear parks in the region that it made the Chattanooga region, made up of eight counties and two states, its second city. model for a metropolitan greenways programme. Park service assistance helped local groups – some of whom had had a vision of such a connected network since the mid-1970s – to design what became a master plan for local greenways.

“If Chattanooga is going to be the environmental city,” said Chris Abbett, an NPS outdoor recreation planner at the time, “they have to work on preserving streams and corridors. things like bringing in industry. That’s a really big part of what Chattanooga needs to really be recognized as an environmental city. I think they realize that’s part of a bigger picture.

The first South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Master Plan Workshop was held in 1995, but by then the trail through Brainerd Levee was well on its way to being extended to Camp Jordan. An 11-acre conservation easement donated by Osborne Enterprises to the city of Chattanooga in 1994 provided the impetus.

“Chattanooga has a wonderful opportunity in South Chickamauga Creek to create a greenway as good as any in the country,” said Charles Flink, president of Cary, North Carolina, Greenways Inc., which was shortlisted. to help prepare the master plan, told the time. “This fits in with your ‘environmental city’ efforts to attract new sustainable development.”

At this point, the Greenway had been planned as extending 22 miles from the Tennessee Riverpark to the Chickamauga Battlefield. (At Camp Jordan, West Chickamauga Creek splits and heads into the battlefield.) It was thought that the entire project could be completed in 10 years.

Progress turned out to be much slower than expected. The Brainerd Levee leg at Camp Jordan which was to be completed as early as the summer of 1995 was not completed until May 2001. The final piece of the $459,000 leg came with the placement of a truss bridge d 1920s steel – for which the city traded Walker County in 1988 – to span Camp Jordan Creek.

As with all stages of the project, the money came from more than one source. This step included federal funds for highways, the cities of Chattanooga and East Ridge, and private donations.

These were just the beginning. Individual plots have been opened since then, and the last piece – called the Cromwell Hills connector – has perhaps been the most complicated. It was certainly the most expensive, with a nearly mile-long stilt walk 40 feet above the creek costing $4 million. He also had to navigate railroad trestles and bridge pilings, some of which predate the Civil War.

A 1994 Chattanooga Free Press article presaged the lengthy process it would take to complete it when it noted that the South Chickamauga Creek drainage corridor contained a wide variety of public lands, including a national forest, park national military, private wildlife sanctuary and cultural site. on the national register, an urban flood protection levee, an airport, a recreation area and other historic places.

But now it is, and for those of us who have run or walked along the then limited Brainerd Levee in its first days of completion, it is a wonder to behold.

For those who saw it as an incentive for industry, a tourist attraction, a recreation for residents or an environmentally conscious project, their wishes have been granted.

“I saw the greenway being built on a scale I never imagined,” said Bobby Davenport, who as the first director of the Trust for Public Land in Chattanooga helped pilot the project in its early stages. beginnings.

Completion of South Chickamauga Creek Greenway may be a decade and a half later than expected, but the city and country has been a bit busy since its planning stages in the mid-1990s, with terrorist attacks, wars, a major recession and a global pandemic.

So, to slightly paraphrase Mark Twain: “Never regret anything you [makes] you smile.”

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