John Shearer: Exploring And Searching For Greenways, Part 3 – Finding My Past In Mountain Creek

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 - by John Shearer

Mountain Creek greenspace and I go back quite a few years.

I lived nearly the first six years of my life in a still-standing, pre-World War II brick home at 1017 Mountain Creek Road diagonally across from Red Bank Elementary School, and I remember farmland and at least one old dairy barn across the street in the early-to-mid 1960s.

And then about 20 years ago, several other people and I tried to get my parents’ handsome 92-acre farm at the end of North Runyan Drive bought as a greenway when I realized they were about ready to sell it after holding it as a long-term investment.

The farm was simply beautiful and featured rolling fields, great views of Signal Mountain and a spring.

The others and I called ourselves Friends of Mountain Creek, similar to the current group now working hard to prevent a development up at the former Quarry Golf Course.

We met for two or three years, but were unsuccessful, perhaps because we did not have a real publicly vocal person like Dave Crockett, who helped turn the old Spangler Farm into the Greenway Farms off Hamill Road and later was elected city councilman.

Before Neal “Bud” Bennett ended up buying my parents’ farm as a second phase of Horse Creek Farms, he called me one time and offered to give a part of the first phase of the land to our group.
In a move that was probably not smart looking back now, we were just getting started and were not sure how to hold the land, etc., so we declined the generous offer.

As a result, instead of having a nice small public greenspace of a couple hundred yards along the woods on the east side of Mountain Creek, I believe the land just ended up getting included as the back lots of the homes built in front of it.  

But regarding the present and future, what greenway opportunities exist for this area of town where residents are almost packed in like sardines due to the number of apartments along Mountain Creek Road?

Let’s take a look running from south to north.

Although people do not think of it as really being in Mountain Creek, the expansive Baylor School campus off Signal Mountain Road has plenty of greenspace on its lower fields and back woods area – not to mention pretty views of the Tennessee River and mountains.

As an alumnus, I have gone jogging over there periodically over the years, now only on occasion during the summer or holiday breaks when most of the students are away. If I could pick only one place to get to jog every available day of the year in Chattanooga, it would be there.

Of course, the school is a private institution serving hundreds of youngsters and could not feasibly or even safely open its lower area near the school’s lake or river to constant public use. But perhaps maybe one or two Saturdays a year during the summer before fall sports practices get started, they could figure out a way to let others see and enjoy this genuine beauty. At least the idealist in me thinks that!  

Another greenspace on the southern edge of Mountain Creek not far from the Baylor property is Portland Park. It is that grassy area of wooded trees near Suck Creek and Signal Mountain roads visible as people travel up and down Signal Mountain and that serves almost as recreation for the eyes due to its natural aesthetics.

Like many others, I have seen that area countless times from my automobile, but last week witnessed it for the first time with my feet. It is as handsome from that perspective as from a car, and I was surprised that I did not smell constant automobile fumes, nor did I get the feeling I was publicly on display like a fish in a bowl.

I even found a few surprises like daffodils on the end away from the road.

Besides flying discs from its main use as a disc golf course, visitors to the park, though, do have to be careful when getting back onto Suck Creek Road or Signal Mountain Road after being there. Such is the life of an urban park!

After getting on Mountain Creek Road and going north past the handsome Sivley cemetery across from the W Road intersection, one comes to the first real greenspace in Mountain Creek. It is the small and wooded Mountain Creek Park space on the north side of Red Bank Elementary.

While it looks small, it is actually quite nice, as it has a looping asphalt path of probably a quarter mile or longer. Since I like to run on grass, I have enjoyed jogging through the tree-covered areas inside the loop – while watching out for the several holes that do exist there.

And when school is not in session, there are also two large fields on the west and north sides of the school building and grassy paths around the facility. All offer nice views of Signal Mountain, with only limited distraction from all the passing automobiles.

I have had to go up on Signal Mountain several times in recent weeks, so I have stopped at this area and jogged several times late in the afternoon or on weekends.

And one time a couple of weeks ago, I made a surprising discovery. A trail has been put in behind the school that goes back and along the creek – just across from Horse Creek Farms and my parents’ old farm.

I kept jogging down it and was almost overcome with emotion realizing I could see for the first time in several years part of the old creek that I used to enjoy visiting and where our cows used to get water.

The Oxford development is under construction there, and I am not sure if this space along the creek already is or is going to be a public greenway, but I would strongly encourage it to be. People don’t have to possess former family connections to the site to enjoy this beautiful bottomland space by the water – especially in an area that is densely developed in places.

Kind of in that area and just a little south are other areas that would make great greenspaces. Southeast a few yards from Life Care Center of Red Bank off Runyan Drive is some undeveloped space that would make a good walking trail, as would part of the old Godsey Ridge, including our old family property.

And perhaps these could be linked in with the large grassy spaces just across Runyan Drive on property owned by Mountain Creek Church of Christ and Mountain Creek Church of God.

And getting back on Mountain Creek Road and heading north, other potential greenspaces can be found. Just across from Red Bank Elementary and the park I mentioned is some undeveloped land that a sign for years has said is part of an outdoor worship area connected to nearby Mountain Creek Baptist Church.

I have noticed some tents there in recent weeks, so I am not sure if those are invited or uninvited guests.

But perhaps this area would make a great walking trail, and maybe it could be linked with the small piece of property for sale just north of it. Although the latter features a house and a couple of barn buildings with it, the back part of it still has a neat rural look to it, and it would be great to connect all that.

Of course, it is being eyed for development, likely multiple-unit housing.

After crossing Morrison Springs Road and going north, one will find one or two houses recently built a few yards up the mountain. I am not sure if those are homes on old family property or what, but a viewer coming down Morrison Springs Road past Red Bank High School will easily notice, particularly in the winter, that this is one more formerly untouched tract in Mountain Creek that has been developed.

And speaking of Red Bank High, a little greenspace remains around that school and the newer Red Bank Middle School, not counting the athletic fields. There is one nice grassy spot housing a picnic pavilion and swing set by the community center, and an enjoyable view of Signal Mountain can be enjoyed.

Farther north on Mountain Creek Road past Morrison Springs Road are several more wooded areas that a preservationist would like to see remain. And in this area going up to the W Road are a couple hundred wooded acres that have been pinpointed for preservation by several conservation groups and with the wishes of the Hamilton County Commission.

The plan is to have it used as biking and walking and jogging trails, similar to the Stringers Ridge Park. That is all great news for preservationists.

Of course, ideally one would like to see three kinds of greenways in a sub-community of Chattanooga – wooded areas, trails along waterways and a little open grassland with just a few trees for shade.

While Mountain Creek would have the first with the conserved area, and the second with the area along the creek behind Red Bank Elementary, the third would be possible with the preservation of the old Quarry Golf Course.

The latter is a place I used to enjoy periodically playing golf about 20 years ago, in part because it was public, allowed walking, was not expensive and was not overly crowded.

With development plans eyed by the Pratt Home Builders development firm, the Friends of the Mountain Creek group would love to see it preserved. And they would also very much like to see the unusually large post oak tree preserved there.

Most preservationists say hats off to them.

The only question I have is where exactly is the post oak? Its location has never been clear to me in the various news reports about it.

But while it is sort of a backward way of land preservation instead of the usual saving of pastoral space or farmland, the former golf course is certainly pretty. The old holes are expansively laid out, feature lakes or creeks or woods around them, and offer that finest of amenities in this area – a great view of Signal Mountain.

Although some money might be needed to pay any developer or property owner to not develop this land, the decision to preserve it seems as easy as a tap-in putt.

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To see the previous story in the series, read here.
* * * * *

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