There are pros and cons to hiking in the winter. The pros include being able to walk without swatting the constant swarm of noseeums and mosquitoes around your head and not worrying about snakes. Also, it's nice not to feel like you're hiking inside an overheated sauna. And depending on where you are hiking, you can see what's beyond the trees. In some cases for miles and miles. The Chattanooga valley has many hidden prizes, and the Enterprise South Nature Park is one of them.
Adjacent to the Volkswagen plant, the park is a county park, and the only thing it has in common with VW is the view of the range of mountains surrounding the city. You can see High Point on Lookout Mountain from the front porch of the Ranger Station, and this particular building is not like any other I've seen. There is a wrap around porch with a stunning view of the mountains, an enormous double fireplace in the vaulted living room with a wall of glass, a couple of private rooms and a kitchen, all available for private parties!
Comprised of 2800 acres, the park features nine miles of trails for walking and/or hiking, 10 miles of mountain bike trails and five miles of paved roads for walking or biking. There is a seven-mile loop if you want to just drive through in your car, and an entire mile of ADA accessible woodland trails. There are four picnic areas nestled under this old-growth forest and three historical exhibits, which are fascinating.
One hundred storage bunkers from WWII are all in perfect form and staggered in carefully calculated locations throughout the park. They look like something out of a fairy tale when you come up upon them as you hike. Perfectly rounded, they rise up out of the earth dramatically like giant toadstool caps, and to add to their charm they have evergreens and mountain laurel and native ferns covering them.
But that's where the fairy tale ends. They housed TNT during the war, so their contents were not only explosive but toxic. "They all were designed with blow holes in the top," explained A.J. Jackson, "so that if they were bombed they would blow straight up in the air, not explode out and ignite the ones next to it." The site was chosen because it was too far inland for enemy planes to reach without refueling. There were another hundred on the property where the Volkswagen plant is now, but they were destroyed.
Inside the bunkers stay 58 degrees year round, and they are also solid. "That's where everyone went during the tornadoes in 2010," A.J. said. Three of these bunkers are open to the public, but all of them are numbered with big, plain numbers over the entrance. They are numbered for reference in case of an emergency, so that the whereabouts can be easily identified.
"The biking trails we have are incredible," A.J. says. "Every weekend people travel from Atlanta, Nashville, even Memphis to ride here. Volkswagen helped build the trails. There are all ranges of trails, from easy loops with no hills to extreme, with steep climbs and uneven terrain.
The holidays are over so you can bypass the mall and stay on the interstate toward Knoxville, take the Volkswagen Drive exit, and park at one of the many available spots at Enterprise South Nature Park. Go on, treat yourself to a real gift and take a hike in one of the most beautiful parks in the country. The air may be chilly but the views in winter are spectacular.