They’re beautiful—and amazingly useful in many ways
With leaves turning and cooling temperatures, it’s the perfect time to take a walk or bike ride. What good fortune to have an ever-growing number of greenways in Chattanooga for your pleasure and soul rejuvenation!
Greenway efforts continue to be spurred by Trust for Public Land (TPL), but before that citizens in Hixson championed the idea of a North Chickamauga Creek Greenway and those walking Brainerd Levee saw opportunities for South Chickamauga Creek. With construction of the Tennessee Riverwalk beginning, the city hired TPL to build greenways.
Early on, members of Mayor Roberts’ appointed greenway committee asked, “What is it that makes Chattanooga look like Chattanooga?” The answer: stream corridors and steep ridges. Then, with help from National Park’s River, Trails & Conservation Assistance and public input, a greenway system was envisioned. Today the Tennessee Riverwalk serves as the spine of the greenway system stretching from Chickamauga Dam to the Aquarium.
Simultaneously, the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance (SCCGA), a citizens advocacy group, was formed in 1994 to protect and enhance South Chickamauga Creek watershed. Much of Chattanooga’s drinking water comes from South Chickamauga Creek as it empties into the Tennessee River just upstream from the Tennessee American Water Company intake. With the Brainerd Levee already in place, this creek corridor was a natural starting place for a greenway project. Today, this 14-mile greenway is almost complete from the river to Camp Jordan. In time, it may extend into Georgia, reaching the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.
A greenway is more valuable than just recreation. Noel Durant, TPL’s Chattanooga Program Director says, “Greenways are not just for recreation, but have excellent multiple benefits. They can be used for alternative transportation corridors, conservation, education, and more.” These linear parks help with obesity and health issues, connecting people from different neighborhoods to engage in outdoor activities, while enabling nearby access to nature. Twenty-five thousand people live within one mile of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway.
Greenways benefit the economy, too. We have seen the North Chattanooga revitalization brought on by the Walnut Street Bridge. Yes, the Walnut Street Bridge is a greenway, despite being blue. It connects people and neighborhoods. Greenways raise property values and allow for alternative transportation.
SCCGA, however, sees a greenway as more. It’s a tool to protect the native environment, enhancing the creek’s aquatic ecosystem and its many cultural amenities. Because South Chickamauga Creek served as an early transportation route, many historical sites are protected on land along greenway corridors.
Most importantly, a greenway preserves water quality. It also serves as a permanent refuge for wildlife and plant diversity, both along the edges and in its wetlands and the floodplains vital for flood control. That edge, adjacent wetlands (nature’s nurseries), and floodplains reduce the impact of flooding and stormwater runoff while keeping sediment out of the water through filtering and slowing of flow. The water is shaded, moderating water temperatures for aquatic species. A greenway provides a corridor for safe movement of species, important for a robust genetic pool and species survival. These valuable services are all free.
Unfortunately, there are water-quality threats. Every creek in Chattanooga is on the Tennessee Threatened and Impaired Streams list, mostly due to sediment from irresponsible development and agricultural practices and habitat alteration. South Chickamauga Creek harbors the endangered snail darter and South Chickamauga crayfish. We must resist the efforts of some to fill in all the floodplains, destroy wetlands, and throw trash and poisons in the water. Join the annual River Rescue on October 3 to help clean up.
Love your greenways for the common good!
Sandra Kurtz is an environmental community activist and is presently working through the Urban Century Institute. Visit her website at enviroedu.net