John Shearer: Exploring And Searching For Greenways, Part 6 – Finding Grass Galore – And A Big Old House -- In Brainerd

Sunday, March 29, 2020 - by John Shearer

As one who likes to jog on grassy areas instead of asphalt or concrete paths, my definition of a greenway or open space is not necessarily a place that has been preserved as a park for recreation by a governmental or non-profit entity.

Instead, it can simply be a large treeless or tree-covered grass field or meadow that is publicly accessible in a way that is welcoming, or at least not unwelcoming!

I surprisingly found several such publicly accessible places when I went checking in areas of Brainerd around North Moore Road. Whether I was at First Cumberland Presbyterian Church and some other churches, Dalewood Middle School or Brainerd High, I saw enough expansive green grass to make a cow happy but the designated mower unhappy.

Of course, I also visited the nearby and unique Chattanooga walkway treasure, the Brainerd Levee, for the second time ever.

And just when I thought I had seen about everything I needed to see park wise, I later learned I missed a few mini-parks, so I went back another day and found not only them, but also a giant old home I had never seen before!

As has become my routine recently, I left my home near Northgate Mall before 10 a.m. Saturday, and I turned on Highway 153 heading south after making a brief stop.

After getting on Shallowford and heading toward the intersection with North Moore Road, I first passed the nice area around a manmade lake set aside for employees of Vulcan Materials. I would love it if they moved their entrance gate back a little from the road and made this area accessible to the general public, unless there are too many liability issues or they think the Brainerd Levee/South Chickamauga Creek greenway is close enough for the rest of the public.

It looks like a nice space, and from my perspective and at this time in Chattanooga’s history, you cannot have enough open space recreational areas available to all.

I then passed the area around the longtime business, the Wilcox Golf Driving Range, across the road.

There is a lot of undeveloped land behind the range, and further research would be required to see if it is owned by some kind of industry or is just a little too much in a floodplain. But it looks to me like it would make another great area to preserve as a pristine natural area.

Or, at least don’t make it a place for dumping fill dirt or used sections of concrete in an effort to build up a site, as appears to have been done in one or two places there in a not-so-eye-pleasing manner.

Where Shallowford Road turns into Wilcox Boulevard in the direction of the Wilcox Tunnel a couple of miles away, I quickly pulled off at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church at 3777 Wilcox Blvd. On either side of the church are two fields I had never noticed before of two or three acres each.

There was nothing but grass covering each chunk of land, but beside the westernmost one is a large wooded area, just as exists off Shallowford Road a few feet away. On the church parking lot end of the Wilcox property, I peeked my head into a clump of woods that in late March is starting to become overgrown with honeysuckle and other invasive species, and what did I see but a pretty little brook with water running through it.

I quickly imagined having a cleaned-out woods here with a nice trail down to the creek and maybe some asphalt paths around the two grassy areas on either side of the church. And maybe it could all connect somehow with the Dalewood Middle School and First Cumberland properties a couple hundred yards east.

Connectedness to me has a symbolic meaning related to people as well.

I then headed back to Dalewood past the large empty parking lot that at one time was the site of a popular Red Food Store, and where one old building that was apparently an Esso/Exxon station still sits.

I had been to Dalewood one summer day about 10 years ago when I was doing a story on mid-century modern architecture in Chattanooga, and I was surprised this time to find so much green space after focusing before just on the building.

About a dozen or more people were walking around the track in front of the school while social distancing, but I started imagining so much more. The track sits in roughly the northwest corner of the school grounds, but what if an asphalt path went through the large grassy areas that surround it on the south, east and north sides.

I had no idea the school had so much grass around it. It is not overly well manicured, but it has a lot of potential to be beautified and made into more of a park rather than just school grounds. What if they – or maybe some community volunteers -- planted some nice hardwoods here in addition to constructing some more paths.

Of course, I realize in this day and time the park might just be accessible during non-school hours, but that would still be fine.

For some reason, all these schools and churches In Brainerd in this area were built on large pieces of land in the middle part of the 20th century, when this part of town was becoming one of the most popular areas to live. The same is true of the Greater Tucker Baptist Church off North Moore Road, which also has a large field beside it.

Such expansive areas like these would no longer be available in some of the fast-growing areas of Chattanooga today so close to other developments, it seems to me.

Regardless, the people who sell lawncare products are likely glad to see all this expanse of grass.

The same scene unfolded at the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which has some recreation areas on one side across a tall chain-link fence from Dalewood.

But it is the other side of the church that caught my eye. There is a nice field of nothing but grass between the church and the Walmart Neighborhood Center, other than maybe some Bradford pear trees along North Moore Road.

I stopped there to take a picture of the field in front of the beautiful and mid-century Collegiate Gothic style church and it reminded me of an area on the grounds of a college that is not cramped for space.

It also had a little bit of an “estate” feel, and I was transported from a mid-level community in Chattanooga in popularity to a place that looked like where you might find 19th century gentry riding by on horses.

I then continued on North Moore Road and past the gate- and fence-protected Boyd-Buchanan School and past the more open Brainerd High and the Brainerd recreational complex next to it, with plans to return. I then turned left onto Old Mission Road. I had forgotten where Brainerd Golf Course’s clubhouse is, but I found it on this street.

It is actually a nice, pre-World War II-looking building that looks like it would be fun to explore.

As I have become older, I have a special place in my heart for public golf courses. It looked like a good crowd of golfers was out on this course actually designed in the 1920s by noted architect Donald Ross.

It would have been neat if the course had some kind of greenway path around it, but I could not see anything.

I would have loved to have found a park in this area, but I did see a neat triangle park of grass and trees of about a half acre across from the clubhouse by Tacoa Avenue. I would actually find another nearby park and several others; I just did not realize it at the time.

I then went back on North Moore Road and turned into the area where the Brainerd tennis courts are and where the Brainerd Community Center is. It looked like four or five of the tennis courts were filled with groups of four playing, and you would never know a pandemic was taking place.

It had been the same scene at the golf course, although everyone seemed to be practicing good social distancing, except maybe friends or partners who had possibly already been around each other plenty.

It is even easier to keep a good distance from each other playing tennis, although hand sanitizing after touching the same ball is recommended.

The Brainerd Community Center – which resembles in architecture a newer-style church – was there, too, and some nice buffer grass also runs back on the south side of the courts to North Moore Road.

I was curious about the amount of greenspace behind Brainerd High for jogging or walking and there was a strip of grass for one to jog or walk back and forth, too, but it was not overly inspiring looking. There was also some grass on the baseball field, but it was behind a sports field fence.

I also realized later that the mostly wooded land behind the school goes all the way back to the levee.

The front of the school is great in that, because Brainerd has so much space, it has plenty of grass there, too. If cut grass allergies cause you a problem this time of year, you might definitely want to stay away from this part of town!

Seriously, all that grass here is appealing and rows of smaller trees could be found, but I think it would look even better with a few hardwoods sporadically placed in the front to give the school grounds a more classic look. It might also encourage more congregating – at least after the health outbreak passes.

And maybe they could put a walking or jogging asphalt loop through there somewhere and connect with the other places and back via a sidewalk to First Cumberland.

I then went north and walked about the first half mile of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway/Brainerd Levee and back. I had been on it one time before in 2018 and had actually gone down the trail a little longer, and I remember then being a little surprised at how beautiful the area around it was. It was perhaps a little more than I expected.

This time on a shorter walk, it was just as nice. I saw some yellow wildflowers, a redbud tree in a backyard of a house in the Whitehaven subdivision, some lowland pastureland along the creek (even though pipes were in place for a major sewer line upgrade project), and a nice marshy lake behind the Boyd-Buchanan football field.

I even saw a neat looking blackbird with a red breast. It might have been a rose-breasted Grosbeak, I learned after an online search once I was back home.

The levee, of course, had originally been built for function or even survival, not for pleasure or recreation. It had been visualized after the 1973 flood, when parts of Brainerd Road/Lee Highway were shown underwater in national publications like National Geographic magazine.

The idea for greenways came later, and I saw a sign saying the park was dedicated to the memory of the late Leon Silberman, who had founded the Chattanooga Bicycle Task Force and had advocated for a greenway trail on the levee. Thank you, Mr. Silberman, for your foresight!

On Saturday around 11 a.m. when I was walking, I passed around 10 or so people, or a few passed me as I stopped to take a picture. Needless to say, I was avoiding them literally like the plague, and they me on the path and grassy shoulder that was around 10 feet wide total.

I got home after another enjoyable trip of exploring greenways and was trying to put together this story, but something did not completely seem right. It seemed like there should have been some mini-parks or something in this area of town where most of the homes of eclectic architecture were built within a couple of decades before or right after World War II.

So, I decided to take a look at a map again of the area around North Moore Road north of Brainerd Road, and what did I find but several small parks and green spaces. As a result, I headed back to this part of Brainerd Sunday afternoon!

But I love the excitement of finding places I did not know existed in my hometown, so I had a feeling of anticipation as I headed back south on Highway 153 and exited at Jersey Pike.

The first place I went was west on Colonial Drive off North Moore Road not far from Brainerd Road. Once it becomes Chickasaw Road and at the intersection of Sequoia Drive, I found about a 20-yards-in-diameter grass circle that is like a roundabout, and then at the next intersection with Shawnee Trail is another grass park – also with a small number of trees.

No signs identified what they were, but an online map said the one at Sequoia is called Hiawatha Park, while the other one is Minnehaha Park.

They were neat, and no doubt a creative pre-World War II developer came up with that to give small buffers in this neighborhood development at a time when many cities named streets after Native American cultures.

Who would not like to stop there and have a picnic on the grass sometime! It seems like the number of passing cars would be minimal.

I then eventually got back on Old Mission Road via North Moore Road a little closer to Brainerd Road and continued west until I again found Shawnee Trail. I had seen on a map where it looked like some green space and maybe one house was there, so I wanted to see it.

However, I could not believe what I saw. By the intersection with North Sweetbriar Avenue and on about a five-acre tract – in this area of town where several home lots fill up an acre – was a giant, two-story stucco style home from about the 1920s. Beside it was a large garage building of the same architectural style.

The home was situated on a nice estate lot with some old trees, and it at one time looked like a fine showplace.

But to say this piece of property is a fixer upper at this time might be a compliment.

I don’t know the situation and if the house is salvageable and the owner would ever want to sell, but it might make a neat greenway/meeting space like Heritage Park in East Brainerd or the McCoy homeplace on Signal Mountain. The land around it could easily be converted into a nice greenway walking area.

It sits in an area where its back right corner is not far from the fields behind the former Brainerd Junior High/21st Century School, so maybe a connecting greenway could be developed here.

I then crossed back over North Moore Road on Old Mission Road to find another park but decided to drive around the far edge of Brainerd Golf Course past the clubhouse and saw a nice little wooded plot of about an acre or two that said Pine Lawn Community on it.

In another area that has a lot of mostly modest homes on small lots, this is a nice little place of respite or at least appealing visual aesthetics for those who live within a couple hundred yards of it. How about a picnic in the grass here, too!

I then got back on Old Mission Road and turned left on Tacoa Avenue past the clubhouse and the triangle island I had seen the day before. I went a couple of blocks more and saw another nice little park of probably more like five acres.

I had originally thought it was called Brainerd Community Park, but a city parks sign called it Tacoa Park. It was neat. It has an asphalt walking circle, some currently closed playground equipment, a pavilion and picnic area, some nice old oak trees on one side, and a field in the middle with some wildflowers blooming.

What a great resource to those who live within a mile or so of it? And to think I had never seen this park before, despite having driven down Brainerd Road just 100 or so yards south countless times.

I then worked my way over to Kenwood Street across North Moore Road in the same general distance from Brainerd Road and headed west until it intersected with Kenwood Circle a few yards northeast of Brainerd United Methodist Church.

Here I found two chunks of grass about 50 yards by 25 yards each with nothing but grass covering them. I am not sure if this is actual park space or is privately owned or is part of the community, but to say it needed a little landscaping is an understatement.

However, I was just happy to see some obviously well planned green space on what at one time was no doubt land in demand for houses. I would encourage whomever to make it more park like, though.

But I could not help but think of all the kids who no doubt have likely played some kind of informal ball on it over the years. I know I would if I had grown up near there, and I might even enjoy jogging a little on it these days.

Happy to see all this grass and trees, even in small places – and thinking about all the undeveloped places off North Moore Road between Brainerd High and First Cumberland – I finally began heading back toward home.

But not before I got on Talley Road off Brainerd Road a little west of where I had been and began driving toward Shallowford Road. There, just a few hundred yards in and past several simply gorgeous 1920s homes originally built for middle-class or upper middle-class families, I came upon a sloping island/median that is about 100 yards long and no more than 15 or 20 yards wide at its widest point.

And in contrast to the place on Kenwood Circle, this one was well landscaped with trees and bushes, including a blooming redbud tree.

Like all these other mini-parks, it is a nice alternative to just seeing more houses and backyards. And it no doubt has been a godsend to nearby residents.

It definitely was to this visitor from another part of town, too, especially at this time of worldwide concern.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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