LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- Jim Huff was in the woods Friday morning near Cloudland Canyon State Park with his dog for company, Alison Krauss' bluegrass cranked up on the stereo and a giant shovel at his fingertips.
Huff was using a mini-excavator to carve a section of a Lula Lake Land Trust trail that will lead from a trailhead at Nick-A-Jack Road all the way to Cloudland Canyon when construction is finished this fall.
"I'm just an old farmboy," said Huff, a retired elementary school teacher who grew up using heavy equipment on his family's farm near Jonesboro, Ga. His interest in mountain biking led him to found Jim's Outdoors, a trail construction company.
Huff kept a close eye on an indicator that showed the grade of the trail he was digging through the duff, stumps and rocks on the forest floor.
The trail is built to be "sustainable." It will slope gently outward at a 5 to 8 percent grade, have no more than a 15 percent uphill grade and will undulate gently in sections so rainwater sheets off it instead of eroding gullies in the dirt.
"We build them to stay here for a long time without any work," Huff said.
Volunteer work crews will go over the trail with hand tools to remove roots and tamp down the soil, said Noel Durant, land manager for the land trust.
Bobby Davenport, the land trust's development director, pointed out a spot where the trail crosses a creek; a Boy Scout is designing a bridge there to earn an Eagle Scout badge.
"We've really become an Eagle Scout factory," Davenport said, explaining that other Scouts have volunteered for the trust.
Davenport said the new trail should be finished in time for RiverRocks Chattanooga, an annual 10-day outdoor festival to be held Oct. 5-14.
Mike Scott and Michael Plummer ran and walked along portions of the trail system Friday morning. It was part of a three-day trek that a dozen ultra-marathoner friends were making between Cloudland Canyon State Park and Edwards Point in the Prentice Cooper Wildlife Area on Signal Mountain.
"It's a great piece of property," Scott said, while admiring Lula Lake just above Lula Falls.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.