John Shearer: Exploring And Searching For Greenways, Part 39 – Pausing To Think About Status Of Local Parkland

Saturday, July 2, 2022 - by John Shearer

For about the last six to nine months, I have thought that I had maybe two or three other specific or general park areas within Hamilton County to visit, and then I would be able to lay this series to rest.


I also envisioned closing the series with a summary or synopsis of what I found and maybe mention a few places that look like they would make great future greenways or parks – just like what I have often tried to do in a smaller way with each story.


As it has turned out, I keep discovering or learning about other park space.

Or a new park area has opened, such as what recently happened with the final section of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway. 


So, I have resigned myself not to find a stopping point to this series anytime soon but to keep visiting places I learn about or discover and continue writing about them, even if infrequently. As a result, this series will probably slow to more of a trickle.


But I still wanted at some point to summarize my own unsolicited overall observations as a layman, just as I intended for the elusive last story. So, I am doing that here. 


I am looking at it as sort of a mental version of when someone walks through a park or natural area and pauses to rest or maybe soak in the surroundings even more. In a park area, that is one of my favorite moments.


And with the fact that the city of Chattanooga Parks & Outdoors department is seeking input over the coming weeks regarding suggestions for city parks, I figured this might be a great time, even though I have also visited and written about county, state, federal, and non-profit parks.


The first story in this series was posted on Jan. 7, 2020, when I visited the Coolidge Park and Renaissance Park areas along the Tennessee River in North Chattanooga and some other nearby park spaces. I initially wanted to make the series a critique and examination.


I was almost looking at it as something a graduate college student in landscape architecture might do. That is, without having book knowledge, only a six-decade appreciation for unspoiled areas or open space.


But I quickly realized the experiences of visiting the parks were more for my soul than my brain. I always finished my work feeling much better than when I started, even if all I often had time for were getting out of my car and briefly walking around and taking a few photos.


When the pandemic hit a couple of months after I got started, examining the parks and greenways became even more of an aid to me than I initially foresaw two months earlier. A visit was a nice respite from the initial fears of contracting COVID-19 before vaccines and the generally milder cases from subsequent variants of the disease arose.


Of course, many city and non-profit parks were initially closed due to COVID-19, so I had to find a few where I could visit, like Chester Frost Park and the Tennessee Riverpark before the latter began being used as a vaccine center.


Along the way I visited all the major parks overseen by various entities within Hamilton County, my self-imposed boundary. That included my first visits to Booker T. Washington State Park and maybe even Harrison Bay State Park, as well as return visits to Reflection Riding, Audubon Acres, Point Park on Lookout Mountain, Signal Point and McCoy Farm on Signal Mountain, Greenway Farm in Hixson, the wooded Enterprise South Park, the revamped East Lake Park, Jack Benson Heritage Park in East Brainerd, and others.


Of the better-known preserved spaces, Reflection Riding is about my favorite. I remember walking through it again on a late August day last year, and I stopped at one point to catch my breath. I remember almost breaking down and crying because the moment was so special being in nature. I was physically tired but emotionally rejuvenated!


I also felt like I was listening to a renowned symphony simply from the sounds of a gentle breeze in a nearby tree or a bird chirping.


In part due to the beautiful views up a mountain, Reflection Riding also reminded me of walking through my parents’ beautiful old farm in Mountain Creek before it was sold in 2004, and it became part of the second phase of the Horse Creek Farms subdivision.


The park I visit the most on my own these days is Greenway Farm, usually with my little Westie dog, Maisie. It has a diversity of places, from open fields with nice views of nearby Big Ridge or Signal Mountain in the distance to wooded paths along North Chickamauga Creek, to a quarry full of water. It also has a nice new conference center I am waiting to see open.


The previously unknown parks I have also discovered have been real treats for me, too. These have been places like Caruthers Park off Rossville Boulevard, the larger-than-it-looks East Chattanooga Park, historic Milliken Park in Alton Park, the Tree of Life Park off Bonny Oaks Drive, Tacoa Park and all those other small parks and circle spaces off Brainerd Road, and even Mowbray Park. Southside Park in South Chattanooga, Standifer Gap Park in East Brainerd near where some tornado damage had been done, the Collegedale greenway, and Benham Williams Park in Brainerd Hills were also enjoyable visiting for the first time.


Mowbray Park, located up the mountain above Soddy-Daisy, almost made me feel like I was a couple of hours away from Chattanooga when I walked around it. I certainly did not think I was still in Hamilton County.


There were plenty of other surprises, including the nice open land around Woodland Park Baptist Church that is maybe not even considered park space by anyone but me. 


I still hope to find a few more previously unknown park places. Shoot, every time I visit a new section of the Tennessee Riverwalk, as I did recently, I realize I have not gotten the full feeling and grasp of it all, despite thinking I had.


And hats off to the nice work done on what is mostly a boardwalk in the newest section of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway.


I must confess that the first park I visited in an area within a mile or so of perceived higher crime incidents made me initially want to hurry and take a few pictures and quickly get back in my car. But then the pandemic hit, and for some reason my views changed, and I felt a connectedness to the larger Chattanooga community. Visiting a park, no matter where it is, made me feel better and want to offer good wishes for that neighborhood.


I don’t know how to solve all of Chattanooga’s and society’s problems and ills, but parks at the very least certainly do not hurt. They can tie us together in a positive way and serve as our babysitters, consolers, and “timeout” areas to make us realize our worries or troubles are not as bad as we think. Or they can make us feel even better if we were already in a good mood.


Regarding the future, I have certainly taken note of the fact that unspoiled areas around Chattanooga and Hamilton County are disappearing. By the time I have gotten finished visiting and writing about a park area locally, at least three or four stories have been in the paper about planned subdivisions or apartment complexes on previously unspoiled land, despite the usual complaints from future neighbors.


Some of this has happened at places I thought and wrote would make great future parkland. That took place when plans were announced recently for the wooded hillside behind the Sports Barn East off Lee Highway and closer to Vance Avenue.


But on the other side, I have noticed that I was not the only one thinking the old Red Bank Middle School property off Dayton Boulevard might make good park space on at least some of the land, as a groundswell of some support for such use has developed among residents there.


Of course, it is hard to stop the obvious demand and need for housing, people being able to make money off selling their land, and development and construction work that is part of the free enterprise system in America. 


However, a typical altruistic park lover might encourage governmental bodies to also spur on developers to set aside a certain section of land for small or medium park space for all, not just residents. And the tree huggers would hope it would not just be a fenced-off drainage pond. 


If such measures are already in place, park lovers would probably think that is great.


And greenway enthusiasts might also say there is likely a need for additional park space in Chattanooga and Hamilton County on land not already eyed for development, since this area is becoming and likely will continue becoming denser with people, homes, and buildings. Some might say a park of at least 3 to 5 acres should be within a five-minute drive of everybody. 


While sometimes it is easier to protect a strip along a creek or river, or maybe some very steep wooded areas that are hard to build on, a parks consultant might also encourage the preservation of some open fields, and perhaps design some landscaping for them with a path and a few trees and picnic tables. That is, while still making them look as much like an old farm pasture or homestead as is possible.


Some might consider a sloping field of some size the highest form of a greenway, as it offers such an interesting horizon for viewing. I know I was pleasantly surprised when I climbed up the wooded hill at protected Sherman Reservation on Missionary Ridge and found a sloping long field of almost-forgotten monuments. I wrote that I thought I had found Shangri-La.


Of course, developers like fields, too, due to views and greater ease of construction.  


Just trying to keep my eyes open while also not knowing the status of all the land, I have noticed several pieces of land, including open fields, that at least do not yet have bulldozers sitting in them waiting to start grating land. 


I have noticed a nice five-acre or so field off Airport Road behind Economy Honda sitting quietly like an idling old-timer. And some land my father, Dr. Wayne Shearer, used to own off Ashland Terrace just east of Ely Road several years ago still sits idle, although it looks like it needs a good bush hogging. 


And this week I noticed again the pretty and bucolic field with a handsome backdrop next to Hixson Presbyterian Church off Hixson Pike by Jackson Mill Drive. Also attractive was the equally handsome field just north of Hixson High on Middle Valley Road, with the same eye-catching background of Signal Mountain far off in the distance.


For smaller tracts, an old homestead harkening to simpler times sits at the busy corner of Old Hixson Pike and School Drive near Hixson United Methodist Church, although a “for sale” sign has gone up there in recent days.


I haven’t even driven up to Ooltewah again to see if much unspoiled land exists there amid all the news of developments and zoning requests. I hope for a visit there centered around a park for one of my future greenway stories.


Among other possibly available land, part of McDonald Farm in Sale Creek will likely be some park space, and residents are hoping some of the old Quarry Golf Course off the north part of Mountain Creek Road might be preserved, as talks have possibly indicated.


To help buy and preserve land, other cities have non-profit conservancies – such as the Foothills Conservancy in the Blount County area by the Great Smoky Mountains. Chattanooga has had the Trust for Public Land working on land acquisition along the waterside greenway paths for years.


Besides saving more land, a hired consultant might also say to make sure adequate restrooms are available at any park.


And some lovers of green space might also encourage less chain link fencing on parks with multiple ballfields, saying backstops and outer park fencing for security are sufficient in many cases, unless the fields are being used for high-end travel ball tournaments. While chain link fence manufacturers and their sales reps might have a different view, the fields can seem more like open space when games or practices are not taking place, some consultants might point out.


Another suggestion I assume a park lover would say is: don’t charge to enter any parks, whether it is the non-profit Reflection Riding or the federally run Point Park. Donations, however, are fine, a consultant – who also could be a little of an idealist -- might add.


After all, the views and settings at many of these parks or green spaces are already priceless in the eyes of many.


* * *


What suggestions do you have regarding park space? At least concerning the city of Chattanooga parks, people have an opportunity to give feedback and suggestions at, as parks officials are developing a new park masterplan. There is also an opportunity to take a roughly 15-minute online survey.


* * *


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


* * *


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