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Ben Collett, 3, eyes an egg to pick up during the Easter egg hunt at Camp Jordan Park.
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Kathleen Locker walks her dogs on the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway.

Located just shy of the Georgia state line, East Ridge serves as a gateway into Tennessee for millions of travelers a year motoring north on Interstate 75. But for locals who know better, it's a gateway to fun events, tasty eats, hometown friendliness and true Southern charm.

Dick Cook has called East Ridge home all his 59 years, and his blood flows orange — Pioneer orange, that is, for the mascot and team colors of the local high school he attended. His class photo still hangs on the wall near East Ridge High School's front entrance.

For Cook, there are no strangers in town, and he's often hailed or heckled from afar wherever he goes. He retired as a reporter for the Times Free Press more than a decade ago and has launched an online newspaper in his hometown, East Ridge News Online.

The town of more than 21,000 people is homey yet convenient to everything, he says. It's sandwiched between Missionary Ridge, Chattanooga, South Chickamauga Creek and North Georgia.

"I've said it for years living in East Ridge is just so convenient. I can get to Hamilton Place mall in a matter of five minutes. Anything I want — from better restaurants to buying golf accessories — can be found there," Cook says. "If I want to go downtown to meet friends, that's just a matter of a couple minutes. Lake Winnie is just across the line in Georgia. That's one of my three grandsons' favorite places to go during the season."

East Ridge is one of the most densely populated cities in Tennessee, Cook notes, which could be because of its relatively small footprint of eight square miles. An introductory east-west pass on Ringgold Road from one end of East Ridge to the other (the Georgia state line to the Bachman tunnel) is just over six miles.

Some families there go back generations.

COOK'S FAVES

Kids'/grandkids' favorite spot: "The 'three amigos,' as I like to call Jude, Jack and James Cook, really enjoy Pioneer Frontier playground. It's next to City Hall and was built 20 years ago by citizen volunteers."

Best eats: "No-brainer. Olive Branch restaurant on the corner of John Ross and Ringgold Road. The folks that own it — Callie, Nick, Faye and John — make you feel like family. They've got a full deli, and you can order a gyro or cheesesteak or build your own. There's also a hot bar where Nick gives you some of the best entrees you can imagine. My favorite is the fish. Call ahead on Friday and let Nick know you want some. I've tried to replicate some of the dishes he makes, and I'm not even close. Delicious!"

"My roots run deept here. My mother and father bought their house on Marietta Street in 1962," Cook says. "I'm a product of East Ridge High School. The athletic facilities there were recently named in honor of Mack Franklin and Ed Woodham. Franklin was the principal when I attended."

Where he lives, Cook is surrounded by family and friends.

"My sister lived on Maryland Drive for most of her adult life. I live around the corner on Marlboro," he says.

"My neighbors here are wonderful people. I've got an immigrant family from Guatemala across the street. A young family lives a few doors down. The dad works at a TVA plant and is a reserve police officer here. They've got young children that always spice up any neighborhood. The people on the corner moved in recently, and she's expecting."

Cook and his next-door neighbor enjoy daily walks with their dogs, "and we've met all — I mean all — of our neighbors by doing such," he says.

A "best-kept secret" in town is a small eatery around the middle of town, by Cook's reckoning.

"There's a little meat-and-three called Corner Cafe on Ringgold Road. They are open for breakfast and lunch, no dinner," he says. "The owners, Melissa and Rodney, have cultivated a local clientele that is super. Go in for lunch and you're going to find a contingent of the East Ridge Fire Department, possibly a councilman, and small-business owners breaking bread with retirees whose families go back in East Ridge for generations. Everyone seems to know each other, and the conversation across tables is lively."

East Ridge's sprawling Camp Jordan Park and Arena is Cook's favorite "quiet spot," although in some areas it's anything but quiet, with playing fields for baseball, softball and soccer.

"There's a little pond behind the arena — named for Jack Dickert, an avid outdoorsman and the father of a guy I grew up with — that provides a respite from all the activity at Camp Jordan," Cook says, noting that his in-laws are regulars among the anglers there.

"Chickamauga Creek borders the park. You can take a walking path down to one of the canoe launches there and bushwack up and down the banks. It's a little micro-environment that seems like a different world."

BY THE NUMBERS

WHO WE ARE

Median household income: $39,340 (2016 estimates)

Population: 21,311

Median age: 37.3

White: 78%

Black or African-American: 12.9%

Hispanic or Latino: 11.7%

Asian: 2.2%

*Does not equal 100% because of overlap.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

WHERE WE LIVE

Median home price: $126,500 in 2017; $154,950 in 2016

New listings: 21 in 2017; 44 in 2016

Closed sales: 23 in 2017; 32 in 2016

» While Zillow in March notched the buyers' market in East Ridge as "cold," the site predicts a 4.6% change upward over the next year and scored market health at 8.7 out of 10.

Source: Greater Chattanooga Realtors

OUR SCHOOLS

East Ridge Elementary (preK-5)

Population: 1,102

Proficiency (TVAAS): 3/5 overall, 4/5 in literacy, 2/5 in numeracy

» Opened in August 2010 to replace the old East Ridge Elementary and McBrien Elementary, which closed in June 2010, the new elementary school has one of the largest school populations in Hamilton County, according to its website.

Spring Creek Elementary (preK-5)

Population: 700

Proficiency (TVAAS): 3/5 overall, 5/5 in literacy, 1/5 in numeracy

» For the past two years, the school was given National School of Merit status by the National Beta Club, which recognizes the school's dedication to academic excellence, leadership development and commitment to celebrating students' achievements, according to school officials.

East Ridge Middle

Population: 675

Proficiency (TVAAS): 5/5 overall, 5/5 in literacy, 2/5 in numeracy

» In 2017, the school ranked in the top 5% statewide for achievement, growth or both. The school has received National School of Merit status by the National Beta Club.

East Ridge High

Population: 853

Proficiency (TVAAS): 1/5 overall, 1/5 in literacy, 1/5 in numeracy

ACT scores: 17.8 composite, 16.5 in English, 17.9 in math, 17.8 in reading, 18.2 in science

*The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System scale runs from 1-5, with 1 denoting the least effective schools/districts and least amount of progress toward the Standard for Academic Growth.

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The Arena at Camp Jordan hosts a variety of events throughout the year.

WHAT WE DO FOR FUN

Camp Jordan Park & Arena

Camp Jordan Park consists of more than 257 acres with a large picnic pavilion, playgrounds, baseball and soccer fields, a 19-hole disc golf course, fishing pond, an amphitheater and access to points and canoe/kayak launches along West and South Chickamauga creeks.

Built in 1993, the 34,000-square-foot arena is home to annual, seasonal and sporting events and can seat up to 5,000 people with parking for more than 1,000 vehicles.

Camp Jordan's walking track and nature trail traces the perimeter of the property and creates a shorter loop within the property. It consists of a wide, pet-friendly, lighted asphalt pathway that weaves in and out of wooded areas, an old farm and along the creeks.

The trail also crosses a walking/biking bridge to the west side of the creek, where it continues north to link with Chattanooga's South Chickamauga Creek Greenway, and users can travel the greenway about 3.5 miles to a terminus near the intersection of Shallowford and Moore roads. 323 Camp Jordan Pkwy.

East Ridge Community/Senior Center and Pioneer Frontier

Adjacent to East Ridge City Hall on Tombras Avenue. A paved walking track circles the playground, and the center contains a gymnasium, fellowship areas and other activities. Annual membership fees for the community center are $20 for residents and $30 for non-residents. The city also offers a family membership for $40 per year. Fees apply to some other classes and activities, and facilities can be rented out. 1517 Tombras Ave. Find out more about the community center by calling 423-867-6406, or the senior center at 423-867-5874.

Antique District

Not far away, the Antique District in East Ridge is located behind Cracker Barrel on Ringgold Road, just off I-75. Visitors can take home a piece of the past after shopping at the half dozen or so stores there.

DETAILS

LOCAL LIBRARY

East Ridge Library

1517 Tombras Ave; 423-867-7323

Monday, Wednesday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Sunday: Closed

CITY SERVICES

East Ridge is governed by a city council made up of a mayor, vice mayor and three council members. Regular meetings are held the second and fourth Thursdays of each month, starting at 6 p.m. for an agenda setting meeting and 6:30 pm. for the regular council session.

Recycling: The city offers free curbside recycling service upon filling out the required request form, and provides a free recycling container to put them in. All typical recyclables included except for plastic bags.

Good to know: Dumpster rentals for house and commercial short-term use are available. Call 423-892-8666 for pricing and scheduling.

GET INVOLVED

East Ridge Kiwanis Club meets every Thursday at noon at Wally's on Ringgold Road.

East Ridge Optimist Club meets the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the East Ridge Community Center/senior side. Contact shereesavon@yahoo.com or addyears@bellsouth.net for more information.

IF YOU'RE SICK

Parkridge East Hospital, which has 128 beds and a 24/7 emergency room, is in East Ridge at 941 Spring Creek Road, and provides all types of medical services, including baby deliveries. Call 423-894-7870.

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