By Jim Bowen, Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority, and Candace Davis, Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau
The Riverwalk along the Tennessee River links Chattanooga's parks, green spaces, museums, public art, businesses, new housing, and neighborhoods.
Now into its second decade of development (initial segment opened May 1989), the Tennessee Riverwalk will form a 20-mile greenway through Chattanooga. It stretches from the Chickamauga Dam to downtown and out to Moccasin Bend, recently designated the country’s newest national park and very first archeological district. Along the way, the trail links parks, green spaces, museums, public art, shops, fishing piers, boating facilities, and miles of scenic Riverwalk along the Tennessee River.
The Riverwalk experience begins at Ross’s Landing Plaza, a novel combination of landscaping, art, and architecture creating a captivating public space that serves as the setting for the Tennessee Aquarium and the Chattanooga Visitors Center. The design incorporates exhibits, artifacts, and legends from Chattanooga’s history and geography.
The Riverwalk extends out over the river and up on to the Walnut Street Bridge, a steel truss bridge built in 1890 that has been renovated into one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges. The bridge is perfect for strolling by day or by moonlight, and connects downtown to the numerous shops and restaurants along the north shore. The north shore is also home to Coolidge Park, which honors Charles B. Coolidge, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient. It features an antique carousel furnished with animals carved by students of Chattanooga’s Horsin’ Around carousel animal carving school. Children can cool off in the interactive water fountains featuring large animals.
Back on the south shore, the glass-bottom Holmberg Bridge leads to the Hunter Museum of American Art and the Bluff View Art District. Galleries and restaurants, as well as a spectacular sculpture garden overlook the river. From Bluff View, two pedestrian bridges lead to the historic Battery Place neighborhood and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus.
Farther up the river, the Riverwalk passes through the Centre South Industrial Park and offers great river views of MacClellan Island and the four downtown bridges spanning the river.
The final 4.5-mile segment connecting the Rowing Center and the Fishing Park along the South shoreline was completed in May 2005. This newest Riverwalk component added three new lighted parking areas, numerous picnic facilities and two public restrooms. Along the route are numerous river, creek and wetland overlooks and a grand, 360-foot pedestrian bridge. The walker, jogger or bicyclist can travel on a 10-mile continuous path along the southern shoreline from the Chickamauga Dam to the Tennessee Aquarium and Ross’s Landing in downtown Chattanooga.
The 21st Century Waterfront Plan was a sweeping $120-plus million vision that transformed the downtown riverfront with a careful combination of development, preservation, and enhancement. An aggressive schedule made this transformation happen in 35 months. This unique plan evolved out of a public process that has become second nature for Chattanoogans.
The revitalization of Ross’s Landing Park is a cornerstone of the plan. The project also reconfigured Riverfront Parkway, allowing for an enlarged and enhanced riverside park. The trailhead of the Trail of Tears is honored at The Passage. New docking facilities were added, the 1st Street Sculpture Garden was created, reconnecting visitors to the Hunter Museum of American Art (completed $19.5 million expansion) in the Bluff View Art District.
The Tennessee Aquarium also added a new saltwater addition (completed $30 million expansion). Additional work along the north shore area has expanded Coolidge Park west of the Market Street Bridge to include the 23 acre Renaissance Park, a wetland park, and appropriate mixed-use development along Manufacturers Road.
The 21st Century Waterfront Plan represents a major portion of the unfinished business begun with the Tennessee Riverwalk Master Plan and stands as a testament to Chattanooga’s ability to forge bold visions punctuated by aggressive implementation. It is a blueprint for a riverfront without rival. Already, housing, office and retail developments have totaled more than $750 million making certain that this riverfront renaissance lasts well into the 21st Century.