John Shearer: Exploring And Searching For Greenways, Part 4 – Enjoying East Chattanooga And Finding Shangri-La On Sherman Reservation

Sunday, March 8, 2020 - by John Shearer

When people think of handsome greenways and nice park space locally, the area around East Chattanooga is not likely to come to mind among those who do not live there.


But within this area mostly off the beaten path for outdoor enthusiasts, I found several nice places that are quite peaceful and full of grass and old trees.

That included unexpectedly beautiful spots both off Citico Avenue and on the Northeastern end of Missionary Ridge.


In fact, they are appealing enough to serve as a positive catalyst to help in any possible future trendy rebound of this area that has struggled in some aspects of urban life in recent years but does still feature some architecturally significant old homes, buildings and churches.


When I visited these park sites on what was a beautiful and crisp blue Saturday morning, I left my home near Northgate Mall, went across the C.B. Robinson Bridge and found my way to Dodson Avenue from Amnicola Highway.


I wanted to do a rough examination of some of the parklike areas of Orchard Knob, Avondale, Bushtown, Churchville and greater East Chattanooga. Other nearby areas with parks I hope to cover on other trips for future stories.


I first stopped at the East Chattanooga Park and recreation/youth and family development center at 2409 Dodds Ave. It has been a recreation site for decades, and no telling how many Chattanoogans of note have spent time there over the years.


My father, Dr. Wayne Shearer, even occasionally played there and went by it back in the 1930s as a child while visiting his grandparents off nearby Appling Street from Cordele, Ga.


It is a large grassy layout about 100 yards wide and about 200 yards deep, with only one ballfield, a small picnic pavilion, a small playground, an antiquated Coca-Cola scoreboard and a neat looking Tudor-style building.


The latter, which has a newer wing on it, looks like a style of architecture from the 1920s. I did a story a few months back mentioning this building and its similar appearance to the recreation building in East Lake.


But the grass and a few old trees sporadically placed in different spots on the acreage are what stand out to me the most at East Chattanooga Park and give it a nice look. As one who likes to jog on grassy areas, I would love to have a place like this within a mile or so of my house to exercise at frequently.


I am not sure how much this park gets used, and no one was there on Saturday morning, but it is a definite gem in this part of town. 


And if this exact space were in a trendier or faster-growing residential area of town, it would no doubt be very much coveted. And let’s hope they would not want to turn it all into soccer or baseball/softball fields, with additional chain-link fences to perhaps spoil the pastoral and more natural look and feel it currently has.


This area of Chattanooga to me is a little confusing to drive through and remember where everything is, even though I have frequented it a few times in the last three years. So I got a little lost trying to get to my next destination. I went down quite a few streets, noticing a high number of small churches and other houses of faith among the mostly modest-looking residences.


But I eventually found my way over to Citico Avenue and on my left – next to a “Bushtown” sign -- I finally found what I was looking for: the handsome Carver Park greenway that sits behind Carver recreation center.


On the way to it, I had passed where a Save A Lot store is to open off Dodson Avenue and Glass Street, at the site where a Red Food Store apparently once was years ago and next to where a former Golden Gallon milk jug drive through still stands as an eatery.


And I saw the former Harriet Tubman housing site that is to be a Nippon Paint manufacturing facility off the 1900 block of Roanoke Avenue. I actually thought it would make a nice park space in its current state, too.


And who knows, maybe a park there – or at least a mixed-use development with a greenway -- could be just as much a catalyst for revitalization in this part of town as a plant. At least the idealist in me thinks so.


Regarding Carver Park, I actually stumbled upon it in my car a few weeks back and was pleasantly surprised to find it. It is quite appealing, and in a more natural way than East Chattanooga Park.


I know I would certainly enjoy jogging on the grassy part along the big circular trail that looks like it extends about 400-500 yards from the back of the Carver youth and family development building toward Citico Avenue.


The 100-yard-wide greenspace is a genuine plus and maybe can eventually help inspire even greater upkeep of some of the residences near it and help them more closely mirror the park.


While I did see several cars in front of the Carver center – including some from the TV stations for perhaps some kind of media event – I saw no one walking on the greenway.


After that, I continued south toward the Orchard Knob Reservation that is part of the National Park Service – and realized you cannot stay on Orchard Knob Avenue the whole way south. Part of it is cut off at one point just north of Third Street.


This time, I just stopped to take a few pictures of the historic site that doubles as a pretty park, but I have walked to the top before in recent years. Although one has to do some climbing to fully enjoy it, the knob is another great greenway in this part of town. It is an additional pastoral oasis amid likely inexpensive, albeit often historic, urban residences.


The site might have been intended to teach stories of the Civil War, including where the Confederates were pushed away in a real-life game of King of the Hill and where Union Gen. U.S. Grant later stood and watched another assault on Missionary Ridge. But these days, it is a place of much peace and tranquility with likely infrequent visitors.


During my visit here, I did not see anyone, either.


I then drove back north to the other end of greater East Chattanooga to visit another Civil War historic site – Sherman Reservation. While quite a few people are familiar with Bragg Reservation in the middle of still-trendy Missionary Ridge – a small area that once was more interesting to me when the historic Missionary Ridge School was there – I would venture to guess Sherman Reservation has been much less visited.


Other than maybe a visit with a Scout troop or on a Civil War tour, chances are most area residents have not visited it like they maybe have Point Park on Lookout Mountain or the expansive Chickamauga Battlefield.


To be honest, I did not know what to expect when I parked my car at the entrance to the reservation at the far end of North Crest Road by Lightfoot Mill Road, as I had never been there before.


I began walking up a relatively steep hill and expected to see nothing but trees the whole way, even though that was certainly nice and peaceful this time of year before the leaves have come out.


But I was surprised that after about 5 to 10 minutes of walking -- and taking a few pictures of trees and more trees – I came upon a simply beautiful sight at the top. There in front of me was a gorgeous strip of grassy land close to 400 yards long and 50 yards wide.


It was like a mountain bald, but of course was shaped by man and was covered with various Civil War monuments, cannon and informational tablets telling of the Union assault on Missionary Ridge in November 1863. And a skinny and tall Iowa monument stood near the center, as if it were a large stone flag that had been planted there.


While it is important to remember the challenges of the past, this site on this day in the present was nothing but beautiful and was what drew my focus. In fact, I was so surprised to have found such a beautiful greenway spot on this day that I was almost overcome with emotion.


I literally felt like a king of the hill!


And to add to the setting that was already appealing enough by itself, I could also see Lookout Mountain and Signal Mountain/Waldens Ridge in the distance. All of Chattanooga looked like a beautiful and peaceful place from this vantage point.


I even thought that the view of Signal Mountain was similar to how the mountain looked when I visited Stringers Ridge for my first story in this series, even though it was of course farther away this time.


I walked to one end of the bald and back, and then began going back down the wooded path again to my car. On the way, I saw a young couple – the first people I had seen inside any of the greenways I visited – and remarked to them with enthusiasm that I was surprised to find a nice big grassy spot at the top.


They had evidently been there before, as they agreed with me and hoped the secret does not get out about how nice it is aesthetically or that it gets overrun like some of the more popular parks in town.


I assumed they had been there frequently and perhaps lived somewhere like Missionary Ridge, but when I got to the bottom by my car, I saw what must have been their car and it had an Arkansas plate on the back of it. But perhaps one or both of them used to live here or they had moved here a while ago.


I know I was glad to now have a connection with Sherman Reservation, too, as I briefly stopped by the Hawthorne trailhead of South Chickamauga Creek and got a quick picture or two of the still-high water below on what was my last East Chattanooga greenways tour stop.


The boardwalk part of it was closed, so I did not stay long. But I was still glowing after the three or four neat park places I had visited.


I did not do a full inspection, but it looks like plenty of other places exist in East Chattanooga for additional park and greenway space.


Everything from the Billy Goat Hill by Missionary Ridge to a small wooded place I found off Wisdom Street not too far behind the Chattanooga Police complex look like potential places for park use. Billy Goat Hill – which also has a Civil War connection -- has been preserved in the last 15 years or so but evidently has not been developed much.


Even some kind of industrial pond I saw next to the Grace facility on my way to the Hawthorne trailhead looked somewhat nice through a couple of chain-link fences and had a couple of ducks floating on it.


Beside additional green spots, maybe ways can also be found to connect all these park spaces better and get even more people to take advantage of them.


I definitely hope to return to Sherman Reservation sometime in the not-too-distant future, perhaps with my jogging clothes and shoes.


As someone who has surpassed six decades of life, I just hope I can continue to get up the ridge.


If I was as enthused as I was Saturday after getting to the top and taking a look, I will likely have no trouble.


* * * * *


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


* * * * *

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