While attending last week’s event for National Parks Partners, I spent a few minutes gazing down at Moccasin Bend - that iconic view from Point Park. I couldn’t help but pause and reflect on the history of Chattanooga and the long, hard struggle to incorporate this significant historic natural resource - this unique land mass - into the fabric of the community’s renaissance. It’s time.
The Bend came very close to being added to the National Park in the 1950’s but last minute politics thwarted that move.
From time to time over the years, other proposed uses for the Bend would arise.
A move in the early 1980s to use the site for industrial development led to creation of the Moccasin Bend Task Force by city and county leaders. Weeks ago I posted records on social media from a 1984 meeting of that group describing efforts way back then regarding proposals to move the police firing range so that visionary plans for development of the bend as a park could proceed.
During my last term as mayor, I called together leadership of local law enforcement and told them that the issue of moving the firing range had been hanging around for far, far too long and while it is well known that those who use the present location enjoy the natural setting it was now time to move. I told them that I was determined to resolve this issue before leaving office. After making suggestions about possible alternatives, I pledged my support for whatever plans they might determine were best for their purposes. “Just tell us what you need,” I said. So, another city-county task force was quickly formed specifically for the firing range issue, Staff was was assigned to take notes and keep things moving, and the group proceeded to meet frequently and openly to address the matter.
To my surprise, the task force soon came back with a proposal rejecting my suggestions and informing me that they had selected a site on 12th Street behind the Onion Bottom Police Station in the old Farmer’s Market site. I responded that while I would have preferred another city/county property on 23rd Street and really had other plans for the Farmer’s Market property to add to services for the homeless, if that location was their choice then I would help move things forward with all due diligence. Recognizing that outdoor ranges are now a major “NIMBY” (Not In My Back Yard) land use, members of the law enforcement task force had toured indoor ranges in Atlanta and Orlando. They reasoned that the 12th Street location already had available parking, security and other facilities, plus an indoor range would enable them to have a facility available for training 24/7 regardless of weather.
Our then Congressman Zach Wamp secured $1.1 million in federal funds to aid the eventual construction. Design teams were selected, plans were drawn and potential suppliers for specialized equipment such and “bullet traps” and air handling equipment were identified. A dilapidated warehouse was cleared from the selected site. All was in readiness for putting the project out for bid.
My term in office ended in April of 2013, but I was satisfied that the process was well underway to complete the long-sought goal of moving the firing range. We were so certain of success that a memorandum of agreement was signed to transfer of the site to the National Park by a date certain. I left office happy that this issue was finally resolved.
But the change in administration brought new personalities with new points of view into the process. A new police chief was installed and progress was halted while plans were reconsidered. Everyone said that it was only temporary.
Without going into all the sad details, it was ultimately announced that the plans so recently prepared by the local law enforcement task force were now deemed inadequate for anticipated needs and that second task force would reconsider the matter and propose a new plan.
That new task force has met sporadically and secretly for five and a half years. Whenever asked how things are going, we are told that something will be announced very soon. Meanwhile, the agreement to transfer the property was ignored, the federal grant has been lost, construction costs for a new range have escalated and development around Moccasin Bend is proceeding rapidly. Zoning cases are being held up and complaints from new residents of the apartments and townhomes across the river are increasing.
There have been significant changes over the years in both the City Council and County Commission. A new county government has just taken office.
Even though I was once satisfied that the longstanding problem of moving the firing range had been solved, I stand ready to help solve it once again. I can think of several alternate sites that should work very well. All it takes is a willingness to move forward. My offer to representatives of local government - and particularly local law enforcement - is the same as before:
Just tell us what you need.
How long must we wait? It’s time.