Huge rock drops onto Lookout Mountain hiking trail

Huge rock drops onto Lookout Mountain hiking trail

January 5th, 2013 by Tim Omarzu in Local Regional News

Robyn Carlton, left, CEO of Lookout Mountain Conservancy, and Todd Roeder, right, chief ranger of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, look up to the site where a massive boulder fell from, blocking the Mountain Beauty Trail on Lookout Mountain. Park rangers and the Conservancy have yet to determine the best method to remove the boulder.

Photo by Allison Love /Times Free Press.

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

New York City dropped the Times Square Ball on New Year's Eve. Atlanta welcomed 2013 with the Peach Drop.

In Lookout Mountain, Tenn., the New Year rumbled in sometime overnight when a huge boulder broke loose from a bluff behind a home on East Brow Road, smashed through the forest and landed smack dab in the middle of the Hardy Trail, a wide, flat path with a gentle grade that's popular for hiking and dog-walking.

The good news?

For one, the rolling rock didn't crash onto Scenic Highway. It sank deep into the trailbed -- an old narrow-gauge railroad right-of-way -- right above Highway 148.

So no motorists -- or hikers -- were hurt.

"We're lucky that it occurred at night and nobody was on the trail at that time," said Todd Roeder, chief ranger for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

The bad news is that the barreling boulder wiped out two switchbacks on the federal park's Mountain Beautiful Trail, meaning it's closed near the rockslide.

Also closed is the south end of the Hardy Trail about one mile in from the trailhead at Cravens House. The Hardy Trail is owned and maintained by the Lookout Mountain Land Conservancy.

"It's one of our crown jewels," conservancy CEO Robyn Carlton said.

While Carlton and Roeder know people will be curious about the boulder, they both asked that hikers honor the trail closures for their own safety.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation plans to remove the big rock.

Sometime next week, TDOT workers will use hand drills to bore holes 8 to 10 feet deep into the boulder, said TDOT Maintenance Manager Richard Howell.

They'll fill the holes with an expanding grout that in a few weeks should reduce the big rock to manageable pieces of rubble that TDOT can haul away, he said.

"That stuff will break up anything," Howell said of the grout that TDOT has used on other fallen boulders. "It'll take a little time."

The exposed portion of the rock is about 16 feet high. The buried part is about 20 feet deep, Howell said.

"We know it's not going to slide on down," he said.

There's a detour on Scenic Highway in the area the boulder fell, but that's due to unrelated work that Tennessee American Water is doing.