I have a modest proposal. Not the same kind of “modest proposal” as the one in Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay by that name. This modest proposal has to do with one of Chattanooga’s most woefully under-utilized features for how best to use it to increase quality of life for our citizens as well as enhancing the experience of visitors with as little impact as possible on its natural flora and fauna.
In the very heart of the City of Chattanooga, within easy reach of both downtown proper and of North Shore, lies what the merchant narrator of Disney’s 1992 film “Aladdin” might call a “diamond in the rough”, as he did a certain street rat.
Chattanooga’s own “diamond-in-the-rough” is none other than Maclellan Island, formerly known as Chattanooga Island, formerly known as Crutchfield Island, formerly known as Ross’ Landing Island. Kind of like saying, “the artist formerly known as Prince” when he was going by that symbol, isn’t it?
Many schemes and plans have been concocted over the past century for how best to draw citizens and tourists to the island balanced with a desire to preserve as much of its natural flora and fauna as possible. Some of these have implicitly conjured up images of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Joe Harper on Jackson Island, only perhaps with Becky Thatcher and Amy Lawrence along since this is, after all, the latter 20th and 21st (rather than the 19th) centuries we’re talking about here.
One of my favorite features in Grenelle, the Left Bank district of Paris where I lived in the summer of 2011, was the Island of the Swans (Ile-aux-Cygnes). A man-made islet in the middle of the River Seine between Grenelle and the district of La Muette, it replaced the earlier natural islet of the same name which is now the northwest end of the Champs-du-Mars, home to the Eiffel Tower. Much the same way that the former Ross’ Towhead now supports I-24 as it goes around the big toe of Moccasin Point.
About 850 meters long (roughly half a mile), the narrow Isle of the Swans is bisected by three bridges and sports a stone-paved, tree-lined footpath (Allée-des-Cygnes) its entire length. At its head, facing the Eiffel Tower, stands a horse-and-rider statue named “Resurgent France”, and its foot supports a one-quarter sized replica of the Statue of Liberty, facing, in direct line-of-sight, the full-sized version in New York Harbor. Since 2007, its eastern side has hosted docking facilities for boats facing the Port of Grenelle.
The island is easily accessible on foot from the two bridges at either end, Grenelle Bridge and Bir-Hakheim Bridge. It is open to the public 24 hours a day.
Even before returning to Chattanooga and relocating downtown, I had always thought that the potential of Maclellan Island was being wasted. I believe that the island should be made a public city park, with pedestrian access by stairway from Veterans Bridge, perhaps even with an elevator for the handicapped and for the not-so-fit.
What I envision is not high-impact. In fact, I believe the island should be preserved like it is as much as is possible and practical. There are already roughly 1.5 miles of trails on the island; these could be asphalted, or, better yet, smoothed with that stuff they use on running tracks around football fields at high schools.
Perhaps the statue of Dragging Canoe that now stands at Ross Landing Park could be moved to the foot of the island, facing west.
I can’t claim this is an original idea, although I had not known of any other when the Isle of the Swans first inspired me. One hundred and two years ago, in fact, developer Charles E. James, (for whom the historic James Building at the corner of Broad and 8th Streets is named) proposed the exact same thing, including the stairway. His suggestion and offer (he owned the island at the time) have been sitting around on a shelf gathering dust for over a century.
As for the name of the park, I suggest the western Cherokee name Tlanuwa, or maybe its eastern Cherokee equivalent, Sunawa, which would be easier for non-Cherokee speakers to say. The Tlanuwa, or Sunawa, is a giant hawk in Cherokee mythology, and the Bluffs overlooking the island have carried the Cherokee name Atlanuwa, meaning Tlanuwa’s nest, for nearly 240 years.
Yes, I can think of several issues that would need to be overcome ere this vision comes to pass, such as the fact that the island currently belongs to an entity other than the city. However, I think everyone should have the chance to be Tom or Becky or any of the other crew for a few hours or for a day, and suggesting it is the place to start to make it happen.