A few Thursdays ago, I had the pleasure of walking with a group of folks experiencing the Stringer’s Ridge trails for the first time. The walk, organized by Friends of Stringer’s Ridge, was both a nice bit of exercise and a living history lesson about the northern side of the city.
During the walk, one of the organizers spoke about a growing movement across the country to convert abandoned railways into hiking and biking trails.
Chattanooga is well known for its substantial number of abandoned or unused rail lines (though, as our cover story attests this week, not all of these will remain that way for long). So, naturally, I was curious if there had been any thought to a “rails-to-trails” project here.
Turns out the trail folks were way ahead of me. Starting Monday, the city will host a three-day series of planning education meetings with Jim Sayer, executive director of the Adventure Cycling Association; Marianne Fowler, senior vice president of federal relations for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy; and Katherine Kraft, coalition director for AmericaWalks.
Outdoor Chattanooga’s Ruth Thompson, who has been a tireless advocate for biking in the region, explained that the meetings will focus on the recreational, health and economic benefits of bicycle tourism and on how the city can use rail-trails both for tourism and recreation and as a means of connecting neighborhoods.
“It’s rare that a city gets the chance to host even one of these experts,” says Philip Pugliese, director of the Active Living and Transportation Network, which, along with Outdoor Chattanooga, is organizing the events. “This is a unique opportunity to tap the expertise of all three at the same time.”
The three leaders are coming to Chattanooga at the invitation of local trails advocate Jim Johnson, whose company, BikeToursDirect, is underwriting the cost of their visit and is a leading corporate sponsor of Adventure Cycling.
“This is a unique opportunity for the community and our leaders to interact with leading experts in fields that could have such an impact on us for generations to come,” Johnson says. “Even looking at the Silver Comet alone, it attracts nearly two million people per year who spend about $57 million. The impact on Chattanooga’s tourism industry and the local economy could be huge. And overall, trails and improved connectivity make Chattanooga more attractive to residents and visitors.”
Two public events will be held as well. “On the Road and on the Trail” at Outdoor Chattanooga, 200 River St. in Coolidge Park, 6 p.m. on Monday, May 12 and “Bicycle Tourism, Trail Development and Connectivity” at 10 a.m. at the Public Library Auditorium, 1001 Broad St. on Tuesday, May 13.
If you have an interest is continuing Chattanooga’s biking (and hiking) renaissance, this is the next step in what we hope will be an ongoing and productive process.