John Shearer: Exploring And Searching For Greenways, Part 7

An Emotional Visit To Hixson Greenway Farm Before Temporary Closure

Sunday, April 5, 2020 - by John Shearer

After beginning this series about three months ago checking out some parks and potential park space in Chattanooga in almost a carefree manner, I changed in recent weeks to enjoying the explorations simply as a nice break from the sad and scary coronavirus news.

And now these main outdoor sites of respite themselves have been taken away temporarily with the stay-at-home mandates, although outdoor exercising on non-park spaces near one’s home is still allowed as long as proper social distancing measures are practiced.

Knowing the shelter-in-place order was to go in effect at 12 a.m. Saturday, I hurriedly went around and took some pictures Friday afternoon of some greenways and open space areas near my home by Northgate Mall, places which are some of my main areas to exercise.

But even then, some of the parks were already starting to close or had already closed.

However, that did not keep me from still taking a little time to give a “goodbye until we meet again” sendoff, particularly at that beautiful place off Hamill Road.

I first drove down Hixson Pike in the direction of downtown Chattanooga, turned left on Access Road and turned right into where the McKamey Animal Center is. Right across from the pet adoption facility is DuPont Park.

A park that also backs up to a recycle and construction waste center does not seem to be ideal for a park, but it appears to work here – despite the occasional clinging sound of glass being tossed into a large receptacle container.

I have not researched the history of this park, but really only a look at the two older pavilion-like buildings is required to realize it was very likely a park for DuPont employees in the heyday of the plant just across Access Road.

Here one feels like he has stepped back into about the 1950s and ‘60s, and it is easy to visualize a big company picnic in those days when industry still ruled and maybe even unions were a part of more people’s lives.

Besides these appealingly antiquated buildings, the park, however, is quite nice. It looks like about five or so acres of grass with some nice trees, and someone can easily jog laps here or walk a pet. These trees are especially nice in the hot summer for the shade they offer.

The park also has a basketball court for the younger ones more interested in hard courts than hardwoods.

After admiring all of it, including the nice timber roof ceiling of the taped-off main pavilion, I then got back on Access Road in the direction of Chickamauga Dam.

I was going to check out the Sinks disc golf course and the Cleveland T. Grimes Soccer Complex down another road, but the city had already closed the entrance gate. I had jogged through part of the disc golf course one time before when no or few disc golfers were there, and it is kind of a nice wooded area with one open grassy area.

It is a great little out-of-the-way place for those wanting such offerings.

The one time I was down there by the adjacent soccer complex, it was closed and locked. And I have noticed when crossing the C.B. Robinson Bridge and looking down that it is apparently as hard to access as an exclusive golf course when organized soccer is not taking place.

I am not sure if maybe it is leased to a soccer organization, but I always hate to see public fields like that closed much of the time during normal times.

I then quickly turned around at the locked main gate and crossed over Access Road to go see the large greenway space in front of the old former DuPont plant, which is now apparently operated by Kordsa but continues in nylon-related manufacturing.

Kudos to whomever came up with putting a nice decomposed granite trail circling in an L pattern in the large grassy and slightly tree-covered area in front of the plant.

I think the path dates to about the 1980s or around that time, and it might have preceded a lot of the places like the Tennessee Riverpark, Coolidge Park, and the Hixson Greenway Farm. I think it was done as a community and maybe employee outreach gesture by DuPont at the time when wellness was coming into vogue.

Although one would not expect this next to a big plant, the well-manicured grassy space offers a peaceful setting – that is, if one does not mind the regular passing of automobiles on Access Road.

Some other grassy areas also outline the plant campus, including a couple of softball fields that for years were used regularly but now are idle and overgrown and give off a little “abandoned community” look.

Just across the DuPont Parkway from this area while heading back south is the DuPont Elementary School. In a city like Chattanooga, schools can sometimes offer some of the best green spaces for playing or exercising by the young and old alike during non-school hours. Hixson Elementary is another nearby school with a big grassy field.

I have written this before, but DuPont Elementary not only has a little bit of a unique mid-century architectural look, but it is also surrounded by some of the best landscaping found at any school in Chattanooga.

Thank you to whomever laid this school out in an area that has so much concrete and asphalt in other areas. Besides a big field behind the school, the triangular-shaped lot also has some classic hardwoods on the narrow end – although it looks like some of them are in need of a tree doctor.

Since it is probably closer to my house than about any other green space, I have rushed over there sometimes on summer evenings or weekends for a quick jog through the grass and woods.

The only problem – other than one or two small holes that need to be filled in for us grass joggers – is that you get to jog in front of countless passing automobiles. A private excursion full of fresh air it is often not, especially in the area where Hixson Pike and Access Road merge.

Changes to the DuPont campus have been discussed in the capital improvement plan, but to me the school seems perfect from an architecture/greenspace point of view just as it is right now – even with the cars.

If you are confused how three different greenspace areas within a few hundred yards of each other either have DuPont as part of their name or are on the old plant land, I completely understand!

I then headed to another school grounds, or at least former school grounds. It is the collection of former ball fields and current walking trail/green space below and around the old Hixson Middle School. The complex is now known as Hixson Park, and one of the neat-looking city of Chattanooga park signs sits there.

I am not sure how long they have been using those signs at the parks, but I like them, although they are not found at every Chattanooga city park.

Hixson Park, which is also connected to a recreation center, is actually divided into two or three parts. In the lower area are some old baseball/softball fields, some of which date back decades. There is also the old football stadium that served both Hixson High School and Hixson Junior High through 1976, and then the middle school used it for a few more decades.

Unfortunately for me, I have often found a lot of these fields locked, so as someone who likes to find grass to jog on, I have to run around them.

To me, the real joy of this park is the upper level, where some green space now exists where the older part of the old middle school building sat. An asphalt path circles this area, and it seems nice and quiet and only gently used.

It has no spectacular view of anything – other than part of the old school building/recreation facility for sentimental alumni – but it is nice and peaceful. That is, except during the morning or afternoon rush hours on School Drive when Hixson and Chattanooga return to normalcy. But the traffic is nothing like Hixson Pike or Access Road.

When I am jogging there, I will also run around the grassy part of the upper level a few times, go behind the old school building once or twice, and then head down to the lower field hoping at least one field is open and I can take a lap there.

Another Hixson green space I enjoy – and another one I have made into a big weekend or after-hours greenway park with my imagination – is the expansive campus that includes both Hixson Middle and High School.

There seems to be enough grass there that someone can put a three- or four-hole golf course around it. Of course, part of it is the collection of varsity fields in front of school used by the Hixson High teams, although the track allows – and gets – walkers of all ages.

There are also numerous fields around the connecting Hixson Middle School.

But what I enjoy about jogging at parks or on such green space as school grounds are the hopefully changing sights you see as you run around. To me, it is a much better visual experience than going around a track or walking down your own street every day – unless you live in Beverly Hills!

And that is why I don’t spend much time on the Hixson track, or in my case, the edge of the grassy football field inside it, except maybe for a quick lap.

The neatest part of the Hixson High campus, to me, is the large field behind the school that has apparently been used for everything from football to band practice. And now it has had some goats and other animals in a small enclosure in one corner as part of a recent school agriculture expansion project.

In the summertime or on weekends, I have enjoyed running around it. You can take one big lap and complete half your workout!

With some North Chickamauga Creek woodland lowland all around the school and old Hixson Pike heading back to the railroad track, this area surrounding the two schools to me seems to be calling out to be turned into some kind of neat greenway trail.

One can take a peak behind the Hixson Middle School fields on the west side and see – especially in the winter -- some nice wooded space leading down to the creek. And an old deer stand can be found there.

A piece of property managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency also sits across old Hixson Pike. It is used for hunting some, and I actually heard some gunshots one Saturday morning back around December while jogging around the Hixson campus. Needless to say, I did a double take until I realized what the land was.

Maybe this land, too, could be connected to a small greenway system here, except of course on hunting days.

Also on the TWRA property is a neat-looking barn, which sits right across from the pretty pioneer cabin building reconstructed along with the nice concrete sidewalk about 300 yards long by the Morning Pointe residential facility.

Perhaps some of this bottom land could be linked with that beautiful piece of farm property just north of Hixson High and create a neat greenway in the continually growing Middle Valley area.

Maybe they could make it a little like the Hixson Greenway Farm.

And speaking of the Greenway Farm, that was my last stop Friday after I took a break to visit my father, Dr. C. Wayne Shearer, and his Yorkie dog, Daisy, in Valleybrook.

Greenway Farm, as it is officially known, is definitely one of the prized Chattanooga city parks in my opinion. I jog there two or three times a week and, with the city parks closing for a period beginning Saturday, I wanted to see it one last time on what was a beautiful early April day.

Needless to say, I was a little disappointed when I pulled up to the entrance and the gate was already closed, even though I understood everything was not shutting down until midnight.

I did see about 20 cars in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints parking lot next door and saw a few people walking their dogs, etc. in the park. So, since there was no sign saying it had already closed, I hurriedly took a few pictures.

I also wanted to say goodbye and tell this beautiful land I hoped to see it again soon. The mostly vacant park on this day looked as pretty as a bride on her wedding day, with mowed green grass and trees coming to life amid a beautiful blue sky.

To me, Greenway Farm is one of the three or four prettiest public land spaces in the valley areas of Chattanooga and Hamilton County. It features some gorgeous rolling fields with sweeping views, including of Big Ridge and Signal Mountain even farther in the distance.

This historic former Ben Spangler family farm that was saved from development with the help of Dave Crockett and others three-plus decades ago also has a historic small hilltop cemetery, a relocated log cabin, and trails that go near North Chickamauga Creek.

It also has an affiliated extension arm along the creek and past a quarry, and much of it is linked by either decomposed granite or asphalt.

Some people might go to parts of this expanse and never the other sections.

But all are likely one in appreciating this beautiful place and looking forward to enjoying it again in the near future.

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

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