One fact I have learned from trying to search out and enjoy the area park spaces within Hamilton County is that the vast majority of them are primarily used by people who live within three or four miles.
Sure, there are a few – like Coolidge Park, the Tennessee Riverwalk/Riverpark and some area mountain trails – that draw from the entire city and county, but I have learned those are the exceptions more than the rules.
And that seemed true with one I discovered last week – the pretty and aesthetically pleasing system of paved paths and grassy areas around Wolftever Creek in Collegedale.
Spending most of my time in the Hixson, Red Bank and North Chattanooga/downtown areas, I usually only get near Collegedale when heading up Interstate 75.
And I had probably not gotten off Exit 9 at Apison Pike in years.
I am sure that is true for many others who don’t live nearby or work at the giant and seemingly beloved local manufacturer – McKee Foods Corporation, maker, of course, of the popular Little Debbie snack cakes.
But last Friday I decided to head up there after Googling “Collegedale parks” and once again seeing the names of places I did not even know existed.
After leaving my home near Northgate Mall around mid-morning, I was surprised that I was up in the heart of Collegedale after only about 20 minutes, a trip that included only a five-minute drive from the Interstate.
Once arriving in the community, I saw the Veterans Memorial Park, one of my intended stops, on the left but could not figure out how to get there, as there seemed to be no parking areas. However, then I realized that you park in that Commons area across the street that features several City of Collegedale-connected buildings, and you enter the Veterans Park greenway area through a tunnel under Apison Pike.
I pulled in by the nice Imagination Station playground full of small children and parents on this perfectly nice and sunny day, and my eyes soon caught a path and big grassy area going south away from the Veterans park across the street.
So, like any curious greenway explorer, I began jogging in that direction on the grassy area jutting out from the path and the small Wolftever Creek, figuring I would check out the Veterans park later.
While flat and with no mountains apparently in view, it was still nice and peaceful with the large open areas of grassy fields. A few yards beyond them were several nice-looking public buildings – including one or two in the shape of old barns.
What surprised me a little compared to some other greenway areas I have visited were how many people were using the paved trails – even on a late morning of a weekday. While not moving along quite as fast or as often as the Little Debbies on the conveyer belts a few hundred yards away, the number of people I kept passing was large. However, it did not take away from the relaxing enjoyment of the nice setting.
Another lesson I have learned from exploring park spaces is that you can quickly get a feel for the neighborhood around each one. Collegedale had almost an idyllic and insular feel about it on that day, perhaps like the communities of Lookout Mountain and Signal Mountain.
While historically home to many members of the Seventh-day Adventist church due to the handsome Southern Adventist University campus and the McKee family’s faith roots, it seems to have expanded into the home of countless other suburban Hamilton Countians as well. In fact, it appears to be getting even a little more upscale in places, as often happens in once-rural areas that start to become popular suburbs.
As evidence, the brick-covered Circle K convenience store on Apison Pike caught my eye as being so well and nicely done that its design might have passed the construction guidelines for a much swankier area of the country.
It was located not too far from a Little Debbie/McKee store that had a neat vintage company truck parked by it.
The Wolftever Creek Greenway certainly had that quality look and feel of the Circle K, too, even though most of it was built by nature and the Great Creator.
I continued jogging with my camera for maybe about 400 yards, and then saw where the path on that end stopped in a parking lot. But I saw a beautiful field beyond it, not knowing if that was the site of a future greenway extension or a private home/estate.
So, I turned around, jogged back, and went through the neat underpass under Apison Pike. I stayed near the path that had a large grassy area to the left, and then went about 200 yards up to the Veterans Memorial Park.
The Veterans Park is nicely done as well and even features a tank, a jet and a helicopter that would likely be enjoyed by both veterans remembering their service and kids thinking these are neat giant toys. A statue to Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss also stands there, and I felt like saluting him.
The only other veterans park like this I have passed in my park exploring so far has been one in Soddy-Daisy, although the one in Collegedale is a little more of a showplace.
A large grassy area also surrounds the memorial area, perhaps making public gatherings and events and concerts ideal during non-pandemic times.
While the path along Wolftever Creek can be enjoyed on the other side of the water where some sports fields also appear to be, I decided to stay on the side where I was and continue a little farther east.
The creek was wider here than on the first part of the greenway I visited, making it even more of an eye catcher, and the park space also had some grass extending 40 or 50 yards out from the water and path.
A couple hundred yards or so from the Veterans Park, I came upon a small lake. It was gorgeous and reminded me a little of the Duck Pond in White Oak by Chattanooga Memorial Park.
I emotionally soaked all that in, and then jogged a little around a field that stood beyond that. While just an open space with a small nook on one end, it was still nice. By then, I had forgotten that increasingly busy Apison Pike was a short distance away.
I then came back to my car and drove a little farther east on Apison Pike closer to Southern Adventist University and the main McKee Foods offices and plants to explore two other small destination parks along the creek and greenway.
They were the Nature Nook on the far end by Tallant Road, and the Thatcher Switch Recreational Area a little farther back by Tucker Road.
They were nice, despite the fact that some widening of Apison Pike and sewer pipe installation work are taking place in that area. The Nature Nook is a small picnic area with a tiny playground, while the Recreational Area has a fenced-in field where some people were playing soccer on the day I was there.
A restroom building is also at the latter to go along with one by a pavilion at the Commons area to aid exercisers. For those of a certain age, a restroom building by a greenway is almost as important as the bucolic view! This building was jokingly called the “Outhouse.”
The Recreational Area also has a nice view of a small ridge in that area for those who are ready to look up a little after looking down at the creek during a stroll.
There are probably other nice areas for recreation in Collegedale, but I thoroughly enjoyed all these and would have been at least semi-content if this was the only place where I could exercise for the next year.
I would, of course, encourage the Collegedale greenway scouts to find a few other fields to preserve as additional links to this nice trail system before all the surrounding land gets taken over for subdivisions, retail facilities and maybe even additional McKee plants.
That is apparently in the works, based on a story by Gail Perry in chattanoogan.com about Collegedale Vice Mayor Tim Johnson’s ideas for greenways mentioned at a commission meeting Monday and his plans to form a small group to look into possible enhancements.
Regardless, after visiting the current greenway trail, I now have another reason – along with the Swiss Cake Rolls, Nutty Bars and Oatmeal Crème Pies --- to admire the offerings in Collegedale from afar!
* * * * *
To see the previous story in this series, read here.
* * * * *