This year, as the weather warmed up, the kids got moving thanks to a National Park Foundation ‘Active Trails’ Grant. All throughout Chattanooga’s long outdoor season in this southern town, Nikki Lewis was busy gathering kids to participate in experiences that got them checking out views and interacting with nature in new and exciting ways. As early as April, the kids were practicing their camping skills with a practice Fake Out Campout, which got even the little ones excited about getting big enough to join the fun of real camping out at Chickamauga National Military Park at the end of the month.
Then with all the excitement of a new trail built to connect Sherman Reservation with Glass Street, it was the perfect time to engage area youth with both the natural and cultural history of the National Park closest to their own neighborhood. GHC teams led a few group walks up to the battlefield memorial site, gathering input from the youth about what they imagine experiencing in the space, and how they may creatively enjoy the land in various seasons. In May, there was opportunity to see through the lighter foliage, for example, while later in July, when the kids participated in two separate design thinking activity days at the park, the leaves were dense and many kids asked questions about the trees, while also expressing the wish to have a lookout to view the river valley below, all of which was recorded for later analysis as groups consider best ways to manage the land communities have regular access to.
The community gathered for a day of history and commemoration during the Juneteenth celebration at Sherman Reservation, featuring reenactments, poetry, and music to mark the official end of slavery in its last holdout in Texas. The beautiful Sherman Reservation fields provided an ideal green space for the event, as the battle fought there proved pivotal in the eventual triumph of the Union forces in the Chattanooga area toward the end of the Civil War.
As for iconic views, those interested in getting a little farther away from home via CARTA bus service had just such an opportunity to enjoy classic views from atop Lookout Mountain’s Point Park last May. The group took 12 kids that had never been up to the top of Chattanooga’s most iconic peak across town to ride the Incline Railway up to Point Park. Although some of the younger kids expressed trepidation about the wooden funicular track, they overcame their initial nerves to share the adventure with others! As with many new outdoor experiences for these Glass Street kids, the desire join in grows as new participants hear feedback shared by their peers. The next trip up to Lookout Mountain made great use of CARTA’s #10 bus route with transfer to St. Elmo for a bit of an older group of teens the next time around, in July, and once again, the views from the park as well as the Incline Railway were a huge hit.
To re-cap: overall this season on Glass Street Active Trails funded 23 trips for 800+ participants utilizing help from 60+ volunteers.
The work continues to expand, growing interest and participation among area youth even as the Active Trails grant cycle has drawn to a close. As recently as early October, as the beautiful warm season began to fade, replaced by a crisp autumn chill, Glass Street youth once again gathered on Saturday Oct. 8 for a Fake Out camping practice prior to last weekend’s trip to the Tennessee River Gorge where seven youth camped in a primitive cabin with local resident Ryan Keller and Nikki Lewis, serving as a leader in her work as an Outdoor Ambassador for the city’s Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs. The group learned about the efforts to conserve this pristine section of the Tennessee River and surrounding trails and wilderness.
Although colder weather and shorter days will now be sending many Active Trails trip participants back indoors, these excursions have irrevocably widened the horizons for the youth around Glass Street, and Nikki firmly believes they’ll be eager to get outside more often now that they’ve enjoyed the view.