Preserving Rock Creek Watershed
RockCreek.com Partners with Lula Lake Land Trust to Preserve the Rock Creek Watershed
10 April 2006
Chattanooga, TN– As Earth Day rolls around again on April 22nd, we at RockCreek.com have been thinking about ways to celebrate. Last year we established a new tradition of taking this time to share our own commitment to the environment with our customers. We hope that through our efforts to permanently improve access to natural resources, more people will get outside and learn why we all need to personally commit to the environment.
One key element in our environmental mission has been to help the Lula Lake Land Trust in their efforts to preserve the unique and diverse ecosystems of the Rock Creek watershed, a beautiful drainage running along Lookout Mountain in Georgia and Tennessee. This past weekend the Trust hosted us for a staff retreat on the property, and as I contemplated the history of the property I began to think of the Trust as a paradigm for effective environmental initiatives.
In several important ways, the history of the Lula Lake Land Trust mirrors the history of many of our most valuable privately-held natural resources. The progress that has been made since 1992, when Robert M. Davenport established the Trust, serves as an example of what dedicated private citizens can accomplish when they turn their resources to environmental initiatives. The Lula Lake story begins with the geology of the Appalachians, which formed millions of years ago as Africa collided with North America. In the time since then, erosion has worn these mountains all the way down to the sandstone and conglomerates that make the spectacular cliff lines and rock bands that make Chattanooga a world class destination for climbers.
Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution, and Chattanooga had become an important gateway city due to its strategic location on the Tennessee River. Lookout Mountain served as a weekend getaway or a summer retreat from the long, hot Southern summers. During the Civil War, Union soldiers used the land that now makes up the core property of the Land Trust as a retreat from the crucial battles going on in Chattanooga and Chickamauga. As automobiles eventually began to dominate the landscape, the mountain became a suburb of Chattanooga. Before the various social revolutions of the 1960’s and 70’s in America, the general public did not value the environment or understand the enormous impact they were having on their planet. Clear-cut timber harvests, mining, garbage dumping, and unrestricted public access had made a mess of much of the rural areas that would become the Lula Lake Land Trust’s core property.
By the time Earth Day came about in 1970, Mr. Davenport had already been quietly acquiring land on Lookout Mountain for over a decade, purchasing parcels as they became available over the years. The low value of the land due to the damage that had been done by insensitive land usage allowed Mr. Davenport to amass several hundred acres of land through the 1960’s and 70’s. He closed the property in the 1980’s and worked to restore its natural beauty by replanting clear cut areas and cleaning out trash dumps. By the time Mr. Davenport died in 1994, he had pieced together over 1200 acres. Today the Trust rivals long-established public lands in beauty and environmental health. Decades of hard work and focused attention have resulted in over 4000 acres of currently protected lands in the Rock Creek watershed. The property serves as a research site for experimental hybrid trees. The Trust works with a variety of educational and non-profit institutions such as The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, Chattanooga Chestnut Project, The Nature Conservancy, Tennessee Wildlife Center, Georgia Land Trust, Tennessee Aquarium, and The American Chestnut Foundation. The federally threatened plant Virginia Spirea (Spiraea virginiana) grows on the property and is only found in twenty-three other sites in the country. The only other population in Georgia grows in Cloudland Canyon State Park and is threatened by high tourist traffic.
This morning I had the opportunity to speak with Adelaide Bratcher, the Interim Director and daughter of the Land Trust’s founder, about her vision for the Land Trust and how Rock/Creek Outfitters fits in to the Trust’s mission. Last year Rock/Creek Outfitters and Patagonia donated $1500 to rebuild a footbridge that had been washed away by floodwaters. The next several years’ donations will go toward completing a connector trail that will link Cloudland Canyon State Park to Nickajack and High Point, creating miles of trails and opening up over 1000 acres to public, year-round access. This project came about as a result of a Land Trust survey sent out to the nonprofit’s supporters. “We realized that our user groups were screaming for more access and we needed to go ahead and open up that property,” Bratcher explains, “the core property is environmentally sensitive, so we have to limit the people coming in there, but as a result we were telling our supporters, ‘You can only come in the Land Trust two days out of the month,’ and they wanted more.” The Board of Directors realized that access is critical to funding, and in an attempt to meet the needs of their supporters, the Trust has prioritized the Cloudland connector trail.
All told, the project will take about $500,000 to complete. The Lyndhurst Foundation has already granted $50,000 to the effort, and the first part of the trail has been completed. The primary goal is to create a multi-use core trail for mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and horseback. SORBA, the Southeast Off-Road Bicycle Association, also wants to build a singletrack trail exclusively for mountain biking in the area.
Many of the local outdoor associations and clubs have volunteered their time recently at the Land Trust. The Southeastern Climbers Coalition recently completed a work day and took some time to climb at High Point. The American Hiking Society also organized a trail day recently. We hope that as more people become aware of the Land Trust’s mission, more acres of land will be protected and opened up for properly managed access on Lookout Mountain. This is one of the truly unique natural resources in our beautiful country, and it is our duty to protect the land that gives us a venue for all the outdoor activities we enjoy. As Patagonia’s founder Yvon Choinard said, “Fundamentally, businesses are responsible to their resource base. Without a healthy planet there are no shareholders, no customers, no employees.” It is our mission at RockCreek.com to do what we can to keep the earth healthy and to educate people about the benefits of regulated access and the joy of outdoor recreation.
You may also be interested in reading last year’s Earth Day article on Sam Evans’ “Eco-Taxi.”
About the author: Mark McKnight has been with RockCreek.com for two years since graduating from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. He has been a committed outdoor enthusiast and environmentalist from a young age, thanks to his mother. He can be reached at mark @rockcreek.com