Loudon residents and visitors may be able to walk along the riverfront next year when the Loudon Riverwalk comes to fruition.
The city was awarded a $1 million grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation in August 2018 to create a greenway that will run underneath the U.S. Highway 11 bridge from the post office to the Loudon County Senior Center.
The greenway project required extra funding, and TDOT recommended the city apply for a second $1 million grant and divvy up the riverfront project into two phases.
Loudon City Council voted last month to move forward with a second grant for the Riverfront Pedestrian Way.
The city received designs for the riverwalk in May in collaboration with University of Tennessee senior engineering students. The greenway will run by the river and connect existing pathways.
Making decisions on other potential additions, such as a pedestrian bridges, are in the works.
“We’ve had some very preliminary talks with engineers regarding the riverwalk project, which we received a $1 million grant from TDOT last year,” Jack Qualls, Loudon Economic Development Agency executive director, said. “When we got into the topography, we realized we may need a pedestrian bridge or two to cross some ravines. Those aren’t cheap, and we went back and asked for extra funding from TDOT. We were told that none of it is available and we could apply for the next grant cycle. What we were asked to do is go back and rewrite the grant application we did last year, and it changes the beginning and the end of the riverwalk.”
Though implementing pedestrian bridges could enhance the trail idea, the bridges come with a hefty price tag.
“We’re looking at it,” Ty Ross, Loudon city manager, said. “We’re just making sure it’s absolutely necessary. We go through some due diligence because they’re not cheap. What we currently have budgeted for it in our 2020 budget as passed by the city council may not cover that expense, so we want to make doubly sure it’s absolutely necessary (and) what are the alternatives. Could a switchback perform well or could a boardwalk? We’re looking at all the alternatives so we don’t have to spend more money than we have to.”
The general greenway routes have been tacked down.
“The original grant was to construct a greenway between the post office and the senior center, and so as we started looking, we applied for that grant, that grant was awarded, we came back and actually started looking with some engineers about the concept that we were originally looking at,” Qualls said. “At that point, it was brought to our attention that the scope of the project needed to be in two sections, a phase one and a phase two. So think about phase one as a connector — a trailhead will be placed underneath the bridge if we can get TDOT’s approval, so that will be the trailhead. Along the water, along the riverfront, up there and then right up to the post office.
“Phase two goes from that same trailhead underneath the bridge along the other side of Highway 11, if you will, and up to the senior center,” he added.
Qualls said the city applied for the phase two grant, which should be awarded next fall. Visible phase one plans are expected to be underway in the summer since a TDOT-approved consulting engineering firm, Lose Design, has been hired.
Constructing the riverwalk will not only beautify Loudon’s riverfront, but Qualls believes it falls in line with Loudon’s downtown growth.
“This ties into the riverfront property and all the development that’s taking place,” he said. “As far as the city is really taking charge of its future by doing this development along the waterfront and invite people to come back down to the waterfront in order to enjoy it.”
Ross believes the riverfront could bring a softer atmosphere to what has been an industrialized past.
“It’s a big deal for Loudon because it’s in perfect keeping with our strategic plan, which is to promote and beautify Loudon’s front porch and back deck,” he said. “Depending on which side you’re approaching, our entrance at (Interstate) 75, including here at (U.S.) Highway 72, it’s like our front porch. Our back deck, our party deck, lake house for everybody, if you will, that’s Loudon’s waterfront. That’s what we’re converting from what’s been historically industrial action to more civic and friendly and softer.”