How Can Accessibility to Nature Improve the Physical, Mental, and Economic Health of a Community?



In late 2015, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (CCNMP) was awarded the Active Trails Grant from the National Parks Foundation and decided to partner with GHC in order to get the Glass Street Neighborhood more involved in and aware of two sections of the park that are right next door: the Sherman Reservation and the Pennsylvania Reservation. The $25,000 grant was almost entirely put towards building a trail straight from the Pennsylvania Reservation at the corner of Glass and Campbell Streets to the Sherman Reservation so walking to the park became a more feasible option for residents. Funds also went towards marketing all the activities at the reservations, cleanup around the reservations, events during the summer and early fall season, and excursions for residents of the neighborhood.


Much of the Glass Street and East Chattanooga area was unaware that the Sherman Reservation and Pennsylvania Reservation are right in their backyard. Raising awareness and enabling more accessibility allowed the opportunity for improved physical and mental health.


GHC led the first excursion on January 24th, bringing 13 youth from East Chattanooga to the Sherman Reservation for a day of exploring and scavenger hunts. It was their first time visiting the park, and each was given and shown how to use a compass, another first for many.

On April 2nd, the CCNMP, GHC, Southeastern Conservation Corp, Sierra Club, and the Trust for Public Land all partnered to host Park Day 2016, sponsored by the Civil War Trust. Volunteers gathered to help clean up the area where the trail connecting the Pennsylvania Reservation to the Sherman Reservation was to be built during the summer. 

The second excursion led 12 youth first to the Bessie Smith Cultural Center for a special presentation, then to the Craven’s House trails and view on Lookout Mountain. The cultural center, in partnership with the CCNMP, was hosting the “Gateway to Freedom” exhibit about the contributions made by the 1st U.S. Colored Brigade in Chattanooga during the Civil War. The CCNMP also put on the “A World Turned Upside Down” presentation about how the social order of the city was flipped when Union Colored Troops secured Chattanooga. Afterward, the youth were led up to Craven’s House, where most experienced Lookout Mountain and the beautiful view of their city for the first time. 

For the third excursion, 16 youths came up to the Sherman Reservation to explore and participate in a game designed to strengthen communication and teamwork skills. They were all paired off and each tied together with their backs together. Their goal was to get to each flag place around the reservation while one partner was blindfolded. Anyone who fell was out. Along with exploring the expansive park and trails right in their neighborhood, the youths got to learn how to slow down and help each other out in order to accomplish their goal.

The fourth excursion was especially exciting, as a group of 15 kids was led to the reservation on a camping trip. Since this would have been the first campout for most of the kids, to prepare them and ease anxieties GHC held a “Fakeout Campout” in partnership with Outdoor Chattanooga. The instructor Terri Chapin answered any questions and taught them how to pitch the tents, build a fire, and pack everything up. It was a great way to allow children younger than eight, who were not old enough for the real trip, to participate.

The final two excursions through the reservation were a time of great reflection for the kids and youths who participated, while allowing GHC to gather feedback on their trips, using the Design Thinking method. Six adults accompanied the youths on each trip prepared with questions to encourage reflection and answers for all the kids’ questions about the monuments and wildlife. 

Two separate trips up to Point Park on Lookout Mountain allowed more kids to see the beautiful views of the city. Transportation to the Incline was provided both times by the #10 CARTA bus. One group of eleven youths went up in May and the second group of older youths went up in July. It was a first for many of the kids, both riding the Incline and experiencing the natural beauty and monuments at Point Park. 

The first Juneteenth that GHC has hosted was held at the Sherman Reservation, complete with a cookout, music, poetry readings, special speakers, and reenactments. The new trail was utilized by many to hike to the event, and volunteers from around the community made the celebration and reflection of history happen.

In October, the youth got another chance to participate in both a “fake out campout” and a real weekend campout in cabins at the Tennessee River Gorge, where they got to learn about the conservation efforts of the area and explore the trails and wilderness.


The benefits of introducing the neighborhood to the fresh air just down the street from them has been incalculable, especially for the youth who participated in the excursions. During the most malleable part of their lives, it’s important that the youth are exposed to safe, meaningful activities that will inspire their futures and get them out in the world, even if their world right now is just our little city. GHC wants to make sure experiencing nature while learning the history of Chattanooga becomes a priority in the community.


National Parks Foundation

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Southeastern Conservation Corp

Sierra Club

Trust for Public Land

Civil War Trust