Thursday, July 5, 2012
Local trail builders are hard at work carving new paths designed for users of all abilities on Stringer’s Ridge. The new system of trails is set to be complete by early fall, according to Rick Wood, Tennessee director of the Trust for Public Land.
“The community has come together to not only protect the land but to build the trails and help make it a public park,” he said. “I think it’s going to be one of those things in the community we’re going to enjoy for a very long time.”
While the public is not prohibited from entering the area as work continues, visitors may run into incomplete trails or damage just-completed trails by creating ruts in the loose dirt.
“As of right now, we encourage people not to go out there,” said Wood.
In February of last year Wood contacted Woody Keen, president of Brevard, N.C.-based Trail Dynamics, to design a system of trails on the 100-acre property set to become a public park. As stated by Keen and partner Ed Sutton, Trail Dynamics has worked in 26 states and four foreign countries, with trail projects already completed this year in Florida, North Carolina and Massachusetts and one currently under way in Virginia.
“The Trust for Public Land sought us out, I’m assuming based on reputation,” said Keen, who had previously been to Chattanooga several years ago to attend the National Trails Symposium, where he hosted a booth as president of the Professional Trailbuilders Association.
Trail Dynamics first visited the Stringer’s site in May and conducted meetings with local stakeholders including TPL, Tennessee River Gorge Trust, Hill City Neighborhood Association, Outdoor Chattanooga, Southern Off-Road Biking Association and trail advocacy organization Wild Trails.
“The existing trails are really a hodgepodge of old roadbeds and what we call social trails,” said Keen, referring to trails created by erosion from footfall or bicycles.
While these trails have served their purpose for the users who likely played a role in their creation, many were deemed unsustainable.
“Eventually those trails would wash away,” said Wood of the original trails that will be replaced with the new system, though he added that some of the old trails are slated to remain but will be improved. “We want to build a system up there that’s not going to be a maintenance problem down the road.”
He said one of the goals for the new trail system is to create different types of trails for a variety of users.
Keen said he researched the local hiking scene, looking at areas such as Raccoon and Lookout mountains and Enterprise South Nature Park to evaluate what the city already has in terms of trail experiences and what it lacks.
While hikers and bikers of advanced skill levels are willing to travel to get the type of trail experience they want, novices are less likely to go long distances to find the type of easy to moderately difficult trails they are looking for, he said. Since Stringer’s Ridge is located so close to downtown, Keen feels adding more trails for beginning hikers and bikers would be beneficial to the park.
Wood said the plan includes 8 miles of new trails, 3 miles of which will be multi-use and 4.5 of which will be for single-track mountain biking. A foot-traffic-only trail will lead to one of four peaks on the ridge, which Wood said will feature an interpretive marker relating to the area’s Civil War history.
Another new addition will be a constructed deck where visitors can enjoy an overlook of the city, said Wood.
The primary trailhead will be accessible from Old Bell Avenue, with a parking area located behind Nikki’s Restaurant. A possible secondary trailhead may be located where Spears Avenue dead-ends at the north end of the ridge, though the property is currently privately owned. The small parking area near High Ridge Road will be used for maintenance or emergency vehicles only, said Wood.
Eventually, if TPL is able to acquire the connecting pieces of land, Wood said they would like to have another access point from White Oak Park. He said TPL will continue to work with landscape designers Jones and Jones to connect Stringer’s Ridge with Cherokee Boulevard and other nearby parks such as Renaissance Park and Moccasin Bend National Park.
Dogs will be permitted on the trails, which as with other city parks will close at dusk, said Wood.
Trail Dynamics will continue to provide consulting services for TPL, though trail building is to be completed by local contractors and volunteers, said Keen.
The Friends of Stringer’s Ridge group has already held several volunteer work days at the park, and more are planned for July and August, said Wood.