Noel Durant and others involved in the Cloudland Canyon Connector Trail (CCCT) project don't just see a light at the end of the tunnel - they see a beacon brighter than a supernova. It's been three years since the project was initiated - three years of planning, collaborating with other groups and organizations, waiting for favorable weather conditions, organizing construction crews and volunteers and raising funds necessary to complete all four phases of the project.
"Phase 3 is ongoing," remarks Durant, land manager at Lula Lake Land Trust. "We're currently establishing the 9 miles of trails from the 5 Points Recreational Area to the Lookout Mountain Parkway." Slated for completion next year, the CCCT will connect the Lula Lake Land Trust to Cloudland Canyon State Park via 40 meandering miles of picture-perfect, multi-use trails. It will make use of a conservation corridor established in 2000 to offer hiking, biking and other recreational opportunities in areas that were previously closed to the public. "The project is a great example of the big things we can accomplish when we work together," says Durant, referring to the large collaborative network involved in the CCCT. "And the Lyndhurst Foundation deserves much of the credit for making the project possible. Without their grants, I'm not sure what we would've done."
There's a saying around Chattanooga: No one works harder to give money away than Bruz. The saying, of course, refers to Bruz Clark, president of the Lyndhurst Foundation, an organization that identifies and pumps money into initiatives, institutions, people and programs that contribute to the long-term livability of the Greater Chattanooga region. With Clark at the helm, Lyndhurst has shown special interest in projects that safeguard and enhance the region's greenways, blueways, trail systems and outdoor recreational venues.
To ensure the success of the Connector Trail project, Lyndhurst awarded $10,000 to Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA), $321,000 to Lula Lake Land Trust and $40,761 to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "And Lyndhurst's financial support made it possible for us to purchase a Sutter 480 trail dozer," notes Erik Rippon, former president and current trails director at SORBA-Chattanooga. "There are only a handful of these machines in the Eastern United States. It's a specialized piece of equipment used for trail construction, and we've used it at 5 Points, on the expansion of Booker T. Washington Trail system and also on the phase 1 expansion of Raccoon Mountain's new trail, Live Wire."
SORBA, the largest nonprofit mountain biking organization in the Southeast, works with land managers in Southern states to create trails and trail systems for mountain bikers and other users to enjoy. Lyndhurst awarded a $50,000 grant to SORBA to help expand the network of trails at Raccoon Mountain and a $5,000 grant to support work at the Enterprise South Nature Park. "Bruz definitely sees the greater community value in what we do," says Rippon. "He knows that connecting communities through greenways, preserving wild spaces, creating accessibility and building trail systems in natural settings are desirable to both the people who live around Chattanooga and tourists who come here to engage nature through walking, hiking, biking and other outdoor activities."
Since 2005, the Lyndhurst Foundation has also directed $2 million of financial support to Hamilton County to extend the Tennessee Riverwalk and $2.13 million to the Trust for Public Land (TPL) to extend the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway and develop Stringer's Ridge Park, a 102-acre urban forest on the North Shore. "So much state and federal funding requires a local match," explains Rick Wood, Tennessee state director of the TPL based in Chattanooga. "Having the financial backing of the Lyndhurst Foundation carries a lot of weight and allows us to leverage additional funds for our projects. Lyndhurst's grants open doors for us."
As for Clark, he grew up in the region and has a strong connection to the land, the history and the people of Chattanooga. "We [Lyndhurst Foundation] look at the projects through a regional lens," he says. "We like to see projects that promote connectivity and establish green infrastructure. We like to see initiatives that build buffers against the developing world and protect the rural character and cultural and historical identity of our communities."
Indeed, as urban areas expand, the still-wild places around Chattanooga become increasingly precious, and Clark recognizes that. "These projects protect and establish areas that provide numerous opportunities for physical fitness, as well as spiritual rejuvenation," he describes. "Trails and green spaces are an antidote to the obesity epidemic that is spreading across our nation and an effective counter to the phenomenon known as Nature Deficit Disorder." Clark notes that studies show that children "do better" when they have hands-on experience with nature. They have fewer incidents of anxiety and depression, improved self-esteem and self-confidence, enhanced brain development and they develop a sense of connection to others and the environment.
He also cites the importance of conservation of natural resources and protection of wildlife and habitat. "And these types of projects also transfer tremendous economic benefits to the surrounding communities, too," he says. "When parks attract more visitors, there's a ripple effect to local convenience stores, eateries, hotels, outfitters and other businesses." The Lyndhurst Foundation sees great social, environmental and economic value in connecting - and reconnecting - people with nature's splendor. Its investment in parks, greenways, blueways and trailways continues to preserve and protect the loveliest, most awe-inspiring places around Chattanooga for our pleasure and for the pleasure of many generations to come.
The Lyndhurst Foundation is a Chattanooga-based grant-making foundation organized in 1938 as The Memorial Welfare Foundation by Coca-Cola Bottling Company magnate Thomas Cartter Lupton. It focuses on the enrichment and enhancement of the social, natural and built environments in and around Chattanooga. LyndhurstFoundation.org