Monday, September 30, 2013

Chattanooga Urban Hiking - Stringers Ridge

I needed to take a weekend off from paddling whitewater due to my aging lower back so I decided to investigate a new city park in Chattanooga known as Stringers Ridge Park. This is an area of semi-urban forest located on a low range of hills in the North Chattanooga neighborhood, just over the river from downtown. The land was obtained with the assistance of the Trust for Public Land and with the assistance and advocacy of past Chattanooga mayor and current U.S. Senator Bob Corker, and former Chattanooga mayor Ron Littlefield. A sustained effort was made to prevent the hilltops of Chattanooga from losing their green, wooded character and being flattened for commercial development or high density housing.

Access to the new park did not seem easy to me but I finally received some good advice from a coworker to turn on Bell Street off Cherokee Boulevard right next to a well known local eatery called "Nikki's" and right before the tunnel that leads into Red Bank, Tennessee. That made it pretty easy to find.

This pic shows the right turn onto Bell Street to get to the park. It also shows some attempt after the fact to make the passage ahead through the tunnel somewhat more friendly for bicycles. Note the sign post with a button at the left. You push the button to activate the flashing lights to warn drivers there is a bike in the tunnel. Pretty sketchy solution. Hopefully they'll be able to improve the tunnel in the future, but that will not be cheap. Fortunately you don't need to go through the tunnel to get to the park.
There is a little road that runs up into the park to a parking area but I chose to park along the side of the road into the park because it was less isolated and more visible from the main road. This proved prophetic as there was a break-in of a Mercedes wagon in the parking lot sometime during the afternoon. I saw the cop arriving when I was leaving. That said I think there is no guarantee of safe parking there. The best thing to do is make sure nothing of even miniscule value is left visible. Many people will recommend to leave the car unlocked so the windows don't get broken but I'll never do that, in case someone decides that vandalism is fun (like the part in The Big Lebowski when a homeless person has used the car as a bathroom).

There is an old gravel-asphalt road that is heavily weathered that runs through the middle of the park and provides access to an overlook of Chattanooga and numerous trails that have been constructed for both hiking and mountain biking. The road is gated off and not open to vehicular traffic.

The Trust for Public Land was instrumental in preserving the range of hills as park land.

Fall colors are just starting to show in Chattanooga. This is looking almost directly down Chestnut Street.

Focused on my workplace, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the complex of brick and glass buildings on the hill in the center of the photo. The large mountain on the right is Lookout Mountain.

The overlook is attractive and equipped with benches.
The trails are a mixture of designated hiking, designated biking, and mixed use trails, some of which are directional depending on what day of week it is and whether or not you are on foot or on a bicycle. Navigation is a little confusing at first but eventually it starts to make sense. I was carrying a PDF of the trail map on my iPhone which helped a lot. There are also some kiosks with large maps here and there but that's not really sufficient for your first trip.

You can see the trails are nicely improved. The complex directional signs are on the left, indicating if you are entering a one-way the wrong way depending on the day of the week.
There are some steps like this on several trails. Looks like they were built by Abraham Lincoln. Heavy duty!

The terrain of the park is typical Appalachian Ridge and Valley in character based upon my recent experience hiking and mountain biking area trails. I say this to differentiate it from nearby Cumberland Plateau and Blue Ridge Mountains trail. Although it's not apparent in the photo above, the soil is almost a natural gravel and should wear well under heavy traffic and still be quite usable even right after a rain. I was taking a break from my bicycle today but I'll be back to mountain bike the trails soon and I'm looking forward to it. Looks like some good quality trail, and it's about a 5 minute drive from work. Unfortunately there is currently no reasonably safe way to ride a bike over from work during rush hour or I would just ride, if for no other reason than to avoid parking my car in a neighborhood known for crime. That and the fact that it's really "urban" in character will likely mean I will visit it only occasionally, but still, it's a nice local option and I'm glad to see the land preserved as a park.