Name: Jim Johnson
Occupation: President of Biketoursdirect.com
Fast fact: Johnson is an avid cyclist and once was president of the Chattanooga Bike Club; he is also a trail runner.
Jim Johnson stands at the lookout of Stringer's Ridge on a freshly cleared path sprinkled with wood chips.
He leans over, scooping a handful of dirt from the path, which he is helping to build with his own money.
"I want my money to go to the dirt," he says, gripping a handful of soil. "That's what it is about."
Johnson, a Chattanooga resident, donated $50,000 to help build trails on Stringer's Ridge, which the Trust for Public Land acquired to preserve.
His money is to be spent solely to build trails. But it has helped leverage about $100,000 in foundation money that is being spent on a master plan and consultants to help with the design and construction of the trails, said Rick Wood, executive director of the Trust for Public Land.
The donation is significant because it helps the trust get to the real work -- making trails and creating a park, Wood said.
"We're not going to have to wait around," he said. "We think once we get the master plan we can move quickly."
Johnson came to Chattanooga from New England in 1997 because of a job. He opened his own business, Biketoursdirect.com, which caters to bicycle tours worldwide.
He lives only about a mile from Stringer's Ridge, but for years he never visited the place regularly, he said. The trails were overgrown, and debris littered the woods.
"It was always a little mysterious," he said.
The Trust for Public Land worked over the last three years to acquire the property atop the ridge. The land was once slated for development, but concerned residents and groups rose up in opposition, and the trust was able to close the deal on the property this year.
Johnson said a friend approached him months ago and told him the trust was looking for money for trails on the ridge.
He decided to give money based in part on a decision he made five years ago that changed his life. He lost about 35 pounds, started running and lived life more, he said.
Now approaching 60, he said he is trying to give more to the community he has grown to love. But he also has grown to love the woods just a mile from his home.
Standing on the Stringer's Ridge lookout, he stares out across downtown Chattanooga. The Tennessee River flows below, and downtown high-rises shoot up on the horizon.
"How can you look at this and not be changed?" he said.
Cliff has worked for the Times Free Press for five years and covers Chattanooga city government. He previously covered Rhea County, as well as transportation and growth and development in Southeast Tennessee. A native of Maryville, Tenn., Cliff graduated in 2003 from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on journalism. Before coming to Chattanooga, he was a crime reporter with Hernando Today, a supplement of The Tampa (Fla.) ...