John Shearer: Exploring And Searching For Greenways, Part 15 – The Interesting Lower South Chickamauga Creek Greenway

Saturday, September 12, 2020 - by John Shearer

Once again, I saw some parts of Chattanooga I had never seen before while exploring a local greenway path. 


This time, it included sections of South Chickamauga Creek on the lower four-mile stretch where it empties into the Tennessee River. 


The way the nicely done path is set up here is that sometimes you are right up next to the creek with an Atlantic City-like boardwalk experience.

And at other times you interact with it even more closely by either going across it in a pulse-increasing experience, or you can walk down to it and gently put everything from your feet to a kayak in it.


And at other times during the warm season when leaves are on trees, it stays hidden from view like a reclusive neighbor.


While I have gone jogging several times recently at the Tennessee Riverpark entrance area off Lost Mound Drive near where South Chickamauga Creek goes under Amnicola Highway, I had never explored much of the section along the creek until this past week.


While little can compare to some of the views of the Tennessee River and the surrounding Chattanooga landscape from the Riverwalk, the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway trail – which runs perpendicular to the Riverwalk on the east side – is still nice and even different.


And it gives a user a chance to learn a little additional geography. Even though I majored in that subject at the University of Georgia and consider myself a little bit of a map nerd, I had never completely understood the difference between North and South Chickamauga Creek. I actually wondered why they could not have called them something different. 


North Chickamauga Creek, I have since learned, empties into the Tennessee River on the river’s west side a few feet below the – yes – Chickamauga Dam.


South Chickamauga Creek – apparently Chattanooga’s widest creek -- empties into the Tennessee River on the east side and comes from the area near Brown Acres Golf Club, where the West Chickamauga meets up with it after carrying water from way down in North Georgia.


Several miles of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway are actually completed, but they are broken into two parts. That includes the area from near the Tennessee River out about four miles to an almost forgotten area of Chattanooga off Bonny Oaks Drive. From there until the Brainerd Levee about three miles away, no greenway trail has been built as of yet. But the trail picks up at the Brainerd Levee and runs out to the Camp Jordan area. 

Due to the fact that at age 61 it might be hard for me to jog the entire length of this four-mile stretch and back – unless I made plans for someone to pick me up at one end, or I bought a bicycle – I actually examined it over four different times in the last week or so. The fourth time was just to get some pictures. 


My multi-visited journey began last Saturday, when I left my home near Northgate Mall about 10:30 in the morning. I parked in the Tennessee Riverpark parking lot off Lost Mound Drive, and I did notice the lost mound by the ADI Market facility and behind a fence.


I had actually been to that part of the Riverpark several times before I actually noticed the mound, though. I would definitely like to know more about it, but assume it is part of the local Indian culture and history.


As the people of today are discovering, the local dwellers of long ago liked being near the river as well. But for many of them, it was probably out of necessity, although they might have found pleasure in the flowing liquid ribbon as many Chattanoogans do today.


Rather than take the nice walk down to the Tennessee River, I instead turned left and began walking down the trail in an eastward direction. 


I went under the Amnicola Highway bridge and began smelling the strong odor of something like automotive paint, but it was noticeable for no more than 50 or 100 yards. While these undeveloped wooded and creekside areas can co-exist with the various surrounding industries and warehouses in a mostly harmonious way for recreational enthusiasts, this smell showed the marriage was not perfect.


As one who tries to jog on grass or dirt instead of asphalt or concrete to aid my knees and shins, I continued jogging on some mostly small slithers of grass found along this greenway stretch – while looking out for a snake ready for a mouse lunch.


But within a few hundred yards of starting, the greenway path turned into a boardwalk, as it stayed elevated above some wooded bottomland. There was no grass for me to save my legs on, but it was still nice, and it had nice railing, where one could stop and gaze at the wooded area, or maybe even plant a kiss on a loved one’s cheek or lips if no bicyclists were zooming by.


All these woods below the boardwalk and at other places made me wish someone would also carve a few brief circular trails into them in two or three places. It might add a little extra amount of enjoyment, or at least adventure.


After I jogged a few yards on the boardwalk, I suddenly came upon something totally unexpected as a first-time visitor. It was a bridge that went over South Chickamauga Creek from a high vantage point. 


As a result, I suddenly thought I was on vacation somewhere hundreds of miles away. Actually, I saw no development on either side of the creek here, and I started pretending I was above the Amazon River.


It was a beautiful sight and one of my favorite surprises after having been examining greenways and parks in Hamilton County and Chattanooga since the beginning of the year.


I continued on a couple hundred yards farther along the boardwalk, realizing a lot of wood was used – which probably provided a good commission for some lumber salesman when it was built. 


Since I knew I was getting close to the North Hawthorne Street trailhead that I had visited before and knew the boardwalk continued past there, I turned around and went back.


On Tuesday during late morning, I decided to visit a little beyond the Hawthorne Street entrance and entered at the Sterchi Farm trailhead. To get to it, I went right off Highway 153 at the Highway 58/17 exit heading from Hixson, turned right on Addison Road, right on Denham Road, and right on Harrison Pike.


And then I pulled up to a nice parking area that included a pavilion, a bathroom building (that great amenity for those of us over a certain age) and a silo that was connected to a barn in the days when this area was a dairy farm. 


The pretty stone silo had an almost makeshift fence around it, apparently for safety, but I would encourage something a little nicer to be put around it. But that was my only complaint.


I loved the open grassy area here and quickly began heading farther away from the Tennessee River. Harrison Pike goes over the creek here, and you can see where the foundation of an old bridge was. 


And a few feet east is an area that goes down to the creek for kayakers or swimmers. 


I was in more of a mood for exploring land, and I loved all the grassy areas I saw for jogging after the boardwalk experience of the Saturday before. There was even an overgrown area cleared off that had a neat “Clamber Scramble Traverse,” where you could run up and down little earthen ramps surrounded by stones and even maneuver across an opening holding on to parallel bars.


It is a nice diversion for the young or young at heart, and I wish more of the old farmland was mowed down, although there were some nice yellow and purple and white fall wildflowers blooming.


From the Scramble and parts of the trail, I could also see Signal Mountain way off in the distance.


I continued on and guess what I ran into? That is right, more boardwalk. But it soon went under Bonny Oaks Drive/Highway 17 and then over the creek, providing another enjoyable view and experience of seeing water right by asphalt. 


I had seen this area before and thought somebody still had some nice bottomland open space and that they should turn it into a greenway. Little did I know it was already part of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway.


The large rolling field – which was mostly cut and was dotted with just the right number of trees – was a real pleasure to see. I also enjoyed seeing the creek once again and was starting to feel like we were old friends by now.


On this day I was passed by a small handful of bikers and maybe a couple of walkers, but probably less than 10 during my entire 45 minutes or so I was out.


Seeing that the boardwalk continued indefinitely above the creek bank, I turned around and went back. 


When I returned to the parking lot, I did decide to jog briefly on the other side of Harrison Pike back toward the river and past the Waterhaven subdivision and nice-looking retention pond before realizing there was no grass to run on. 


I did not previously know that the newer development was there, and it looked like it would be a nice place to live, although I prefer older homes. I was also surprised it was a gated community right beside this contrasting greenway that connects an older and more modest section of town with the rest of the city in such a seemingly beautiful and harmonious way, as greenways and parks can do.


On Thursday, I decided to go back and complete the lower part – or at least see most of the lower four miles – by going to the temporary terminus.


With my Westie dog, Maisie, with me, I got off at Bonny Oaks Drive by Highway 58, turned left at Youngstown Street and went past numerous duplexes and Harmony Baptist Church. I then turned right at Faith Road and came upon an almost non-descript parking area that was only recognizable as a trailhead by a doggy bag box.


I had never been to this part of Chattanooga before, and would guess many others have not, either. But with an almost-reluctant Maisie with me, I began descending down a steep old paved road. 


Finally, after about 250 yards, and a few stops for Maisie to sniff, we reached the paved trail of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway. It was definitely the end of the terminus of the trail, and looking to my left, I realized some serious tree- and earth-moving work will be required to continue extending the trail through some heavy woods.


But it was quite peaceful here, despite the desolate and uninhabited look, with me and Maisie the only breathing creatures in sight. It was almost as if nature had made this spot a gated community, too, simply by geographic contour.


And I did love the fact that plenty of grass extended away from the trail here, and I would love to come back sometime and jog here when I did not have my 13-year-old dog.


Maisie and I walked on for close to a quarter of a mile, including under a railroad bridge over South Chickamauga Creek that had one or two stone piers that looked almost 19th century. Along part of the wall of the overpass, it was definitely the 21st century, as people’s names were scratched in it. There was also a protective cover over the path here, perhaps in case trains drop any materials.


The creek was pretty again, although I did not see a convenient place to walk down and look at it and say hello to my newfound friend.


I know I was only a few hundred yards from where the boardwalk I had left on Tuesday was, so Maisie and I turned around and walked back up the lonely old paved road to our car.


It was a neat experience overall, from seeing no one at mile marker 4, to plenty of others back at the start. And the different sights seen along the way were enjoyable, too.


They were all linked by South Chickamauga Creek, which I saw again on Friday up near its start when I went back to take some pictures and enjoyed a stunning view of the bridge on the main Tennessee Riverwalk above a canoe launching spot.


From all angles, the creek was enjoyable to experience.


Now, if they could extend a few trails off this greenway path – or at least offer a little more grass!


* * * * *


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


* * * * *

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