The Chickamauga Dam and Cloudland Canyon State Park are just 2.9 miles of new trail away from being connected for ambitious hikers and mountain bikers.
Lula Lake Land Trust crews are planning to begin work in January on the Chattanooga Connector Trail that will link the land trust to Covenant College and provide the missing stretch in a network of trails between the Tennessee Riverwalk and Cloudland Canyon, a popular Georgia state park.
"Cloudland Canyon would be the destination where, if people wanted to make it a bikepacking trip, that's where they could stay," Lula Lake Land Trust development director Kat Volzer said. "There are tons of great trails on the mountain already, and we're trying to connect them all into a bigger system that will make sense."
The connector trail will be a key link in Lookout Mountain's trail network, which is part of the developing Great Eastern Trail that eventually will connect New York to the Gulf Coast.
Cyclists and hikers now can take the 13-mile Riverwalk from the Chickamauga Dam to St. Elmo, travel up Lookout Mountain on the Guild-Hardy trail and then take a National Park Service trail to Covenant College.
The new trail, projected to be completed in July, will connect Covenant to the Lula Lake Land Trust. From there, travelers can take existing trails to the Cloudland Connector Trail leading into the state park.
A local foundation has pledged $40,000 to the project and individual donors have accounted for another $5,100 so far, Volzer said, noting the total cost is expected to fall between $50,000 and $60,000.
The project will include a scenic 3.1-mile loop through Lula Lake property, for a total of six new miles of trail. A $3,000 bridge across Gerber Creek will be a key element. Lula Lake Land Trust manager Pat Kelly is leading the project with a team of part-time workers and volunteers.
"This will provide immediate access to people who want to have a cup of coffee in downtown Chattanooga during the morning and then go camping at Cloudland Canyon that night," Volzer said. "This provides that immediate link."
The new trail connection also could attract more trail-running and mountain biking competitions to the area, officials from Lula Lake and Cloudland Canyon said.
Cloudland Canyon park manager Scott Einberger said there is "huge" potential for the new trail to attract new events.
As far as attracting bikepackers, devotees of the emerging sport in which mountain bikers tote camping gear on their bikes for overnight excursions, Einberger said he "could see it happening.
"This is a key component of connecting, basically, from the Chickamauga Dam all the way to us in a unique hiking or mountain biking fashion," Einberger said. "That is pretty neat."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.