RISING FAWN, Ga. -- Hikers, horsemen and mountain bikers are six miles closer to having a link between Cloudland Canyon, Lula Lake and eventually St. Elmo.
Next week, Phase 2 of the Cloudland Connector Trail will be officially opened on Lookout Mountain.
"It is only a matter of time before you will be able to ride a mountain bike from the [Tennessee] Aquarium to Cloudland Canyon State Park," said Bobby Davenport, development director for the Lula Lake Land Trust.
The new section is 6.2 miles, but it also adds 14.3 miles of narrow, winding paths for mountain bikers. Most of the trail loops through the site of an old coal mine, undulating up and down forested piles of mining debris. Surrounded by oaks and other hardwoods, the trail opens into a few conifer thickets, with the crisp pine scent hanging heavy in the air.
Volunteers with the Lula Lake trust and members of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association built most of the trail, while Georgia State Parks crews built the trailhead parking area.
Erik Rippon, the president of SORBA Chattanooga, said the new trails should help strengthen Chattanooga's reputation as a mountain-biking mecca.
"I think this just builds on that quality of life," he said. "There's one more trail system to draw people in."
Once six-mile phase three is completed -- which could come as early as next year -- a ribbon of trails will link one of Georgia's most popular state parks, Cloudland Canyon, with the conservation area around Lula Lake. From there, Davenport hopes to connect to trails around Covenant College and those around Point Park and the Lookout Mountain battlefield, which link to trails in St. Elmo.
"The rights-of-way are all there, it just takes a willingness to do it," Davenport said.
Bobby Wilson, manager at Cloudland Canyon, said the trail would help the park by bringing in mountain bikers.
"It's a whole new group of users for the park," he said. "We're excited about it."