Chattanooga is an outdoor mecca, and it’s clear Chattanoogans take extraordinary pride in their little, southeastern city in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains on the banks of the Tennessee River. In fact, Chattanoogans take so much pride in their city that it was twice voted the Best Outdoor Town Ever according to Outside magazine.
What makes Chattanooga a great outdoor town? The scenery and access to public lands, of course. Prentice Cooper State Forest is some 20,000 acres of protected Cumberland mountain forest practically adjacent to downtown. With trails, creeks, hunting, fishing, and boating, it’s an outdoorsman’s paradise, but it’s just the beginning. The mighty Tennessee River runs through downtown and then some 27 miles of Tennessee River Gorge protected by the Tennessee River Gorge Trust. Downtown parks Coolidge and Renaissance Parks are world class in their designs. Many sections of the Cumberland Trail State Park, which will be one of the most beautiful linear trails in the world once its completed, are a stone’s throw from downtown Chattanooga. Chattanooga’s very own linear park system, the Tennessee Riverpark and Chickamauga Greenways, has some 25 miles of completed multiuse trails. Indeed, the newest section of the Tennessee Riverpark connects downtown Chattanooga to the Lookout Mountain Battlefield of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park to Lula Lake Land Trust to Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia encompassing miles and miles of trails. Besides all the trails, Chattanooga has amazing flat water and whitewater paddling, nearly endless rock climbing, world class hang gliding and paragliding, and endless opportunities for fishing. I could go on and on.
Without the connection and proximity to these incredible collection of public lands, Chattanooga wouldn’t be the best outdoor town ever. Not even close.
Before taking a job as Executive Director of the Friends of Moccasin Bend, I knew the peninsula, like most, as little more than a mental hospital and a dramatic turn in I-24 on my way out of Chattanooga to Birmingham or Nashville. Now, I know that Moccasin Bend is Chattanooga’s most underrated park. So why, as Chattanoogans, are we okay with leaving our largest, perhaps most historically significant green space, unconnected, uninterpreted, and underutilized?
Moccasin Bend is a national park, adjacent to downtown Chattanooga that could have some 10+ miles of trails interpreting the 12,000 years of American Indian habitation there in addition to its crucial role as a Union artillery position and supply line in the Battle for Chattanooga during the Civil War. Moccasin Bend could have boat ramps, bike lanes, and real opportunities to learn about and connect with our past. But now, it has no little.
I could go on and on about Moccasin Bend’s potential, but imagine the impact of these two, small examples:
1. The new, 3 mile section of Tennessee Riverpark connecting downtown to the national park on Lookout Mountain has spurred some $200 million in private development at Cameron Harbor alone, which sits DIRECTLY across from Moccasin Bend. This linear park will spur hundreds millions more in development between Main Street and St. Elmo. Similarly, a Riverpark connection from the Northshore to Moccasin Bend could spur millions in development and investments in our downtown.
2. With basic visitor facilities such as parking areas, trails, and interpretation, Moccasin Bend could attract 250,000 additional tourists to downtown with an estimated annual economic impact of $20 million.
Moccasin Bend is downtown and it has been long envisioned as a keystone to Chattanooga’s 21st Century Waterfront and greenway plan. It’s time to respect our next greatest park asset and do right on the Bend. The National Park Service can’t do it alone. If you believe in the vision for the Bend, please join us now. There has never been a more crucial time for our park.