published Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Conservancy protecting Chapelbrow site

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    Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Robyn Carlton, with the Lookout Mountain Conservancy, shows off the 90 acres of property and land the group is raising funds to buy to extend the mountain's greenway area. The group is hoping to lead the Riverwalk up to the top of Lookout Mountain.

On a site once targeted for Lookout Mountain's biggest residential development, local conservationists want only a wilderness foot trail that eventually will be connected to a 93-mile path.

The Lookout Mountain Conservancy is trying to raise $2.5 million to buy and protect 90 acres just below Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

The nonprofit group recently bought options for two pieces of property after previous purchase agreements for the sites ran out for investors wanting to build an $80 million housing complex for the elderly on the property.

"This site is a key link in the chain of public greenspace and trails we hope will eventually stretch from Chattanooga to Gadsden, Ala.," said Robyn Carlton, chief executive of the Lookout Mountain Conservancy. "We're excited about the potential this beautiful site offers us."

The conservancy, organized in 1991 as the Lookout Mountain Protection Association, is launching its biggest fundraising effort to purchase the mountain site, which spans from Scenic Highway to Lula Lake Road near Covenant.

Former Covenant College President Frank Brock organized a group of investors two years ago to buy the same site for the proposed Chapelbrow elderly development. Mr. Brock proposed building up to 160 residential lots and a 60-unit assisted-living center.

After Lookout Mountain, Ga., commissioners voted against the project, Mr. Brock dropped the land purchase option earlier this year.

"We're disappointed for the city of Lookout Mountain, but we think there are plenty of sites outside the city limits and we are continuing to pursue this project at a different site and with a different name," Mr. Brock said Friday.

To protect against other development on the mountainous terrain, the Lookout Mountain Conservancy has agreed to buy the two properties if it is able to raise sufficient funds. Two houses on the land would be sold for private use, but most of the properties would be preserved as is, with a public hiking trail built to connect with other greenways and nearby Covenant College.

FAST FACTS

$2.5 million -- Money needed to buy two pieces of property

90 -- Total acreage of two properties

93 -- Total miles on planned walking path for Lookout Mountain

Source: Lookout Mountain Conservancy

FIND OUT MORE

At 10 a.m. today and 1 p.m. Sunday, the Lookout Mountain Conservancy will offer tours of its mountain trails and sites. Call 424-3882 for more information.

Gail Bryan, whose 10-acre home is just across Lula Lake Road from the targeted site, said she and others on Lookout Mountain are eager to see the wooded site protected.

"I lived in Boston for 40 years and loved Boston, but when I came back to Lookout Mountain after my mother died, I knew I couldn't leave this area again. It's so beautiful," she said.

Ms. Bryan, who helped organize Lookout for Smart Growth in opposition to the previous Chapelbrow proposal, has agreed eventually to donate her land to the Lookout Mountain Conservancy.

The conservancy is also expanding up the mountain within the city limits of Chattanooga from the John Wilson Park it developed at the foot of Lookout Mountain.

The plan is for Chattanooga's Tennessee Riverwalk to be connected with the trails that begin at the base of Lookout Mountain, providing a greenway and hiking path 93 miles along Lookout Mountain across seven counties and spanning three states.

"Our goal by the time that the Riverwalk gets to the foot of Lookout Mountain in five to seven years is to have a trail system the entire 93 miles of the mountain," Ms. Carlton said.

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