John Shearer: Exploring And Searching For Greenways, Part 22 – The Surprisingly Large Enterprise South Nature Park

Saturday, January 16, 2021 - by John Shearer

A summer or two ago, I had visited the Enterprise South Nature Park for the first time since moving back to Chattanooga in 2017, and I jogged on one or two of the paths near the Visitors Center.


On Wednesday of last week while pondering my next place to visit and write about, I decided to visit Enterprise South again and observe it during the dead of winter.

While a recent broken arm now on the mend prevented me from doing much jogging or serious hiking, I still drove around the small loop and then walked a short distance on one of the flatter trails.


It was enjoyable, and I was pleased that my arm allowed me to take enough pictures that did not have that fuzzy look and that I always blame on my autofocus camera and not me.


I would have loved to have climbed 150 yards up one of the tall hills off the trail near the front to see what kind of wintertime view existed. But I started envisioning falling again with only one good arm while coming back down and having to be rescued – and probably making the local news in the process.


So, I opted for the simpler-but-still-nice experience that even a couch potato could handle. I enjoyed the small natural runoff ditches full of water, the shiny moss, ferns looking like they had been planted by an unknown landscaper, and concrete igloo-like bunkers from the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant days.


According to some information found online, the bunkers are actually magazines that were used to store the wartime TNT produced at the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant. The plant opened in 1942 during World War II and continued until 1977. The facility also supported fertilizer production until 1982, and the land was declared surplus in the 1990s. 


The bunkers – dozens of which exist on the land – were covered with dirt and later even trees to not make them noticeable from above in the days when enemy planes infiltrating the Chattanooga skies were a real concern during wartime.


Besides these basement-like views of the bunkers, I realized that I was actually still going to get to enjoy the earlier referenced high views, too – at least from my car.


I had picked up a map of the various trails, and after I arrived back at my Northgate Mall area home about 15 minutes away, I realized I had made a mistake and had seen only a fraction of the park.


The loop I had driven on goes through only about a fifth of the acreage. There is actually a much longer paved automobile loop – Still Hollow Loop – that goes on for nearly six miles around the various trails.


Since I like to be a somewhat thorough examiner of a park, I got back in my car late Friday morning when the temperature was seasonably mild, and the sky was rich blue, and did the big loop.


And that is when I realized how big this Hamilton County-operated park is. It is almost like half a Cades Cove loop, but you see trees instead of meadows and old churches and barns.


The park comprises 2,800 acres out of the 7,000 that originally encompassed the VAAP plant, with the rest of the land now going to the industrial park and tenants like Volkswagen and the Amazon Fulfillment Center.


Opened in 2010, the nature park actually sits right next to the Volkswagen plant and can be easily accessed via Bonny Oaks Drive on the west side and Volkswagen Drive off Interstate 75 on the east.


The Bonny Oaks entrance is near the Redoubt soccer complex that is another nice park amenity in that it is not gated off, unlike many active recreational facilities locally. Also here, one can jog around or observe the creek and passing railroad trains without having to kick a soccer ball. It is, of course, praised for its soccer fields, too!


At the Enterprise South Nature Park, the ancient, timeless and more aesthetically pleasing scenes of forest-covered hillsides sit right next to the carved-out Volkswagen assembly facility representing the modern industrial world. It is an interesting contrast that was not lost on me. 


Of course, the hilliness of the preserved area made it hard to develop as part of the industrial park.


The park has about 15 trails for hikers, bikers and joggers, and even a place to ride horses. 


When I would previously hear about Enterprise South Nature Park and its trails, I assumed the typical user was a 25-year-old fitness enthusiast with zero body fat and who likes to buy a lot of energy bars at running stores.  


So, it surprised me when I went back on Friday and found the big loop catering to those in automobiles, but who can receive quite a workout with their eyes simply by gazing at the acres and acres of trees.


And there were even a few places to stop and enjoy a picnic and get even closer to nature without having to engage fully and physically with it. Also, a few fancy outhouse-style restrooms – without any flushing or running water – can be found to keep you from roughing it as well.


So, a grandma and grandpa in their 80s or 90s who can no longer walk long distances can feel almost as refreshed and rejuvenated after visiting the park as someone training for the Tour de France or its off-road equivalent.


A number of trailheads are along the big loop for the exercise enthusiasts, though. And the trails surprisingly seem to all be a little different from each other to give some variety, even though the wooded park as a whole seems to have a uniformity to it.


The entire park looked to be a nicely preserved forested area with mostly native hardwoods barren of leaves right now and some cedars. Few invasive species that have overtaken the wooded areas near the Tennessee Riverwalk off Amnicola Highway could be found here.


A small area near the point of the loop farthest from the Visitors Center did have a small coverage of pine trees – which in my opinion are no no’s in Southeast Tennessee. 


I love trees and woods and enjoy exploring them, particularly in the winter when you are not fearing snakes, ticks or poison ivy. My wife, Laura, said she has heard from people who have seen snakes, possibly rattlesnakes, here in the warm season.


And when I ran there a year or two ago, also in the summer, I found some slither marks on the nicely maintained trail on my return back to my car, and I don’t think they were from a squirrel.


The wintertime seems to be the time to come here, and preferably on days when it is sunny, and the temperature gets at least into the high 40s.


While driving around on Friday, which, as mentioned, was one of those nice days, I found myself wanting to come back and enjoy some of the trails off the bigger loop another day when I had more time.


On both days I was there last week, most of the users seemed to be down on the trails close to the Visitors Center. And they seemed to be of all ages – from young mothers with small children, to retired couples, to college-age young men walking dogs, which are thankfully allowed here.


So, if you want a more solitary experience, go to the trails off the big loop. Just be careful wandering off the paths, as there is a lot of acreage here, and you don’t want to get lost and make the local news as well.


Several gates with numbers can be found throughout the park, perhaps an homage to the days when the military-style VAAP plant was there. They are likely helpful in emergency situations.


If much of the old VAAP Plant remains, I did not see it. The rust-covered facility used to be visible from Highway 58, and it had a spooky and mysterious look to it to me.


The fencing found at various places, but not throughout the park, also added a little mystery.


While I loved all the trees and acres of space, I found myself wishing for perhaps a few open fields to complement the forestland, even though some small and cleared picnic sites could be found.


The wooded areas simply offered views of the adjacent wooded areas, although I understand a hidden lake is in the middle of the big loop.


Although preserved woods are still nice, this spoiled outdoorsman likes trees, open fields, streams or rivers, and views of mountains all at the same place. 


Enterprise South Nature Park does have a small branch as mentioned, and near the end of the big loop, one can enjoy from the car a nice panoramic view and perspective of distant Lookout and Signal mountains – and the up-close Volkswagen plant.


As has been the case several times since I started this series about a year ago, my outlook was changed again as well toward increased respect after realizing more can be found here than initially expected.


I look forward to coming back, and hopefully when the hardwood leaves and snakes are still dormant.


* * * * * 


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


* * * * *


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