More than 40 people packed into the St. Elmo fire hall at 4 p.m. Thursday to hear what changes the National Park Service has in mind for its Lookout Mountain land, including the Civil War battle sites there.
The federal agency wants the public's opinion on matters such as whether the interior of Cravens House should be closed or open to the public, if mountain bikers should be allowed to use a section of the John Smartt Trail and whether it makes sense to develop a formal overlook with a view of Missionary Ridge on the site of the former Pan-O-Ram club.
"Please provide comment," said Park Service project manager Erin Flanagan, who encouraged audience members to submit feedback in writing and online for the general management plan amendment for Lookout Mountain Battlefield.
One man wondered, "What exactly to do you mean by battlefield restoration?" He noted that Civil War battles resulted in "massive degradation of natural habitat."
Park Superintendent Cathy Cook said it meant clearing brush and trees to make battlefields look as they would have during the Civil War. A Civil War-era orchard could be restored near Cravens House, she said.
"We don't plan on going through and shelling the areas," Cook joked.
One thing Flanagan requested was that people state reasons they felt the way they did.
"It's that 'because' piece that really helps us," she said. "That 'because' lets us know what's behind your thinking."
The management plan has three broad alternatives, labeled A, B and C. Alternative A is the "no action" plan that's required in all such federal planning exercises. Alternative B calls for some improvements, including ones on nearly 400 acres the park service has acquired in the past decade. Alternative C calls for the most work, such as enhanced interpretative signs "to better tell the stories of the battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge from multiple vantage points."
Alternatives B and C share some things. For example, they both call for demolishing the Williams House, a large, slate-roofed home next to Cravens House.
"It's not consistent with the landscape," Flanagan said of the vacant home that was built decades after the Civil War. Also, it would cost an estimated $1.2 million in renovations just to get the home up to code, she said.
Among the audience members was Corey Hagen, director of education for the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center. He hopes to work with the park service to place signs at the arboretum marking Geary's Crossing.
"I don't see any negatives to this," Hagen said of the planning process. "I think it's great."
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.