A recent addition to the plethora of trail systems in and around Chattanooga, Stringer’s Ridge offers six miles of hiking and mountain biking trails on 92 acres near the heart of the city. About 10 years ago a large chunk of that property was being considered for development, but residents spoke out, and The Trust for Public Land stepped in to buy it. Assistance from other nonprofit partners secured the rest of the site for perpetual public use. The result is a fine and accessible trail system in the middle of North Chattanooga.
When my wife and I visited Stringer’s Ridge recently with our two daughters, ages 3 and 9 months, the day was cloudy and cool. Temperatures were in the low 50s. The dominant color on the mountain was yellow, supplied by the changing leaves of dozens of young hickories, several large maples and the occasional sassafras sapling. We parked at the Spears Avenue trailhead, one of two entrances to the Stringer’s Ridge trail system. The other entrance is behind Nikki’s Drive-Inn on Cherokee Boulevard. Spears Avenue has more and better defined parking spaces, as well as two well-maintained bathrooms with heated air and plumbing.
At the beginning of the trail, privet crowds the passage from both sides. Before long, though, the invasive shrub gives way to the native hickories, oaks, maples and pines. Coming around a sharp bend early on our hike, we encountered a large, recently toppled pine tree. The thick trunk had been cut up to clear the trail, and several huge chunks lay on the bank. We could still smell the rich scent of pine as we put our noses to the pale wood.
Sadly, the ridge was also littered with fallen hemlocks, prey of the invasive woolly adelgid. The trees lay stripped clean and scattered on the ground like giant toothpicks. A few stubby branches still poked out from their smooth sides. Our 3-year-old, naturally unaware of the sad fate of these trees, amused herself by tightrope-walking along their trunks. The thicker ones she straddled like a gymnast on a pommel horse.
Aside from a few venerable oaks and towering pines, most of the trees on the ridge are young and thin. This may be because the trail system is only about 10 years old. Despite, or perhaps because of, its newcomer status among Chattanooga’s trail systems, Stringer’s Ridge is popular. On our hike we saw several pairs of mountain bikers, a couple of trail runners and a few people out walking their dogs. Folks were coming and going in the parking lot as we arrived and as we left, even though it had started to drizzle on our way back to the car.
Our plan after the hike had been to eat a snack at the green metal table beneath a young oak tree near the parking lot. With the cold rain wetting our clothes and chilling our bones, we chose to have our snack in the car. Our 9-month-old, snuggled up to my wife in the baby carrier, had been lulled nearly to sleep on the hike. As I laid her in the car seat, she drifted off at last. Our 3-year-old sat up front in the passenger seat with my wife, who passed around grapes and a bag of pecans for us to share. I started the car to give us a little heat as we ate our snack, and we watched the fine rain blur our view through the windshield.
Read more about Stringer’s Ridge at sorbachattanooga.org/stringers-ridge.