Nature’s Path: Lovely Lula

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Tucked off a highway south of Chattanooga are Lula Lake and LulaFalls, part of an environmental preserve that’s home to striking vistas and miles of hiking and cycling trails.

by JAMES JAILLET | photos by ALAN CRESSLER and courtesy Lula Lake Land Trust

While driving along Georgia Highway 157, you have to keep your eyes peeled for Lula Lake Land Trust. The blue sign directing visitors to its gravel pull-in is small (though inviting), and you can pass the preserve’s core quickly on the rural, single-lane highway.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]But the recreation area’s size might be its most drawing quality.

With several gorgeous waterfalls, a picturesque tumbling creek, a few footbridges and a magnificent, miles-long bluff, the six miles of trails in the preserve are packed with scenic views.

At points, my wife and I feel we could be walking on a trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or in nearby Cloudland Canyon State Park, given the well-maintained paths and the beautiful scenery surrounding them.

But Lula’s recreation space is much smaller and more manageable for those looking for a leisurely stroll filled with breathtaking sights or seeking a slightly more brisk workout, such as a packed hike through the woods or laps on a mountain bike.

Here’s the catch: You have to plan your visit for one of the two days a month the preserve is open to the public.

Access to the preserve is available on just the first and last Saturdays of each month. But Lula Lake Land Trust is working on opening it a few Sundays each year, too, says Tricia King-Mims, director of development for the trust.

On open days, the preserve is filled with hikers, picnickers and sightseers.

On open days, the preserve is filled with hikers, picnickers and sightseers directly to main attractions: Lula Lake and its two waterfalls.

This flat hike only takes about 15 minutes. “It follows the creek, so it’s really beautiful in and of itself,” King-Mims says. “It’s a good thing for a first timer who maybe just wants to see the highlights.”

A kiosk is always set up on open days for visitors to pick up a map and talk with a volunteer about the trail system and different routes to take to and from the lake and falls.

The Middle Trail also takes visitors to the falls from the parking area. Surrounded by woods, the trail offers hikers a more moderate trek than the main gravel path and access to a variety of other trails, for those routing their own loop.

“There’s something for everyone,” King-Mims says. “We really just encourage people of any ability or interest to come out because it can be as easy or as strenuous as you want it to be on the trails.”

There’s also the Cloudland Connector Trail, which enters the park from the south and connects the preserve to Cloudland Canyon’s net-work. Since that trail is state managed, it’s open when the Cloudland park is.

Lula Lake Land Trust was established by the will of Robert M. Davenport in 1994. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to protect and preserve the natural beauty and resources within the Rock Creek watershed by fostering education, research and stewardship of the land.

As early as 1958, Davenport began acquiring pieces of property that would later form the core of the preserve. These original acquisitions included Lula Lake and Lula Falls. Davenport continued purchasing property around the lake in the 1960s and 1970s. Mining, clear-cut timber harvesting, garbage dumping and unrestricted public access had stolen much of the land’s beauty. Davenport closed the property to public access in the early 1980s and began cleaning up dumpsites and replanting areas that had been clear-cut.

When Davenport was diagnosed with late-stage cancer in 1993, the need to ensure continued preservation of the property – which had swelled to 1,200 acres – became urgent, King-Mims says.

“It all happened kind of fast,” she says. “In the course of a few months, the family had contacted an attorney, who drew up paper-work to turn the property into a land trust. And Mr. Davenport had in his will that when he died, the land would be donated to a new entity called the Lula Lake Land Trust.”

Since Davenport’s death, the land trust has expanded protection within the Rock Creek watershed to more than 8,000 acres. The non-profit’s board now has 11 directors, three of them Davenport’s children and the rest members of the community who are vested in the land’s preservation.

Also on staff are a land manager, who is responsible for taking care of the grounds, and King-Mims, whose main functions include fundraising for the trust and representing it to the public.

As part of conservation efforts and to advance education and research with respect to native plant and animal life, the trust works with state agencies and other nonprofits such as The Nature Conservancy to assess natural resources and develop monitoring procedures. The trust also cultivates relationships with colleges, universities and research institutions to conduct biological inventories identifying rare plants and animals on the property. One discovered species, Virginia spirea, was previously known from only one other location in Georgia.

The preserve plays host year round to organized recreational and educational outings such as school field trips and camping week-ends for Boy Scout troops.

“When the property is not open to the public, we want it to be used for education and recreation,” King-Mims says. “Education is a big part of our mission.”

If You Go

Getting there : The Lula Lake Land Trust property is at 5000 Lula Lake Road, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750

Open days and times: The first and last Saturday of each month, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST (excluding certain holidays). The entrance gate closes at 4 p.m., and exit gate locks at 5 p.m.

Cost: Free, but donations are encouraged to help the land trust keep the property available to the public

Be sure to check out: Trail maps at lulalake.org[/s2If]