Chattanooga's newest trail system is now open, connecting much of the area's existing trails while adding another 8.1 miles for mountain bikers and hikers on Lookout Mountain.
The Chattanooga Connector Trail and Moonshine Trails at Lula Lake Land Trust held a grand opening last month and are open year-round for the public.
"For a town that touts itself as a big outdoors town, you have to have trails," Lula Lake Land Trust Director of Development and Communications Kathryn Volzer said.
The area has more than its share of trails and the Moonshine Trails give mountain bikers and hikers more places to explore, while giving those who travel to the area for its trail system another reason to come and stay.
The long-planned and highly anticipated Chattanooga Connector Trail has been 10 years in the making.
Hikers and mountain bikers now have the opportunity to start downtown and travel on 120 miles of connected trails.
The trail connects Cloudland Canyon State Park, Five Points, the new Moonshine Trails, the Tennessee Riverwalk, the Cloudland Connector Trail and the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park trails on Lookout Mountain. It also connects to the Lula Lake Land Trust land, which is open the first and last weekends of the month.
It is the newest stretch, and one of the longest so far, in the Great Eastern Trail system that will run from Alabama to New York, allowing continued hiking for roughly 1,600 miles.
For the Lula Lake Land Trust, the trail is a major part of its mission.
The trust's main goal is conservation, but where possible, Lula Lake officials want to make sure the public can use that land for educational and recreational purposes. They believe they've achieved both with these trails.
"We don't just want to buy the property and lock it up," Lula Lake Land Trust Executive Director Mike Pollock said.
While the Moonshine Trails are still relatively unknown and lightly trafficked, mountain bikers and hikers have traveled up the mountain to check out the new paths.
There has been some confusion between mountain bikers and land owners in the area. While the Lula Lake core property — located directly across Lula Lake Road from the Moonshine Trails — is only open the first and last weekend each month, the new trails are open year-round.
Parking is available along Highway 189 past Covenant College. On open-gate weekends, people can park at Lula Lake Land Trust.
The Moonshine Trails, named for the area's history with the illicit distillation of liquor, is comprised of three different trails: Firewater, White Lightning and Bathtub Gin.
White Lightning is true to its name, offering a fast, somewhat-technical descent with flow and some narrow passages. Firewater offers riders a chance to explore, traveling over a bridge, through some creeks and rocks. Bathtub Gin is the shortest of the trails, yet is full of rock gardens, boulders and plenty of ups-and-downs with narrow turns for advanced riders. Those with less experience can avoid the section and continue through the connector trail.
Rocks and boulders abound throughout the trails, keeping them challenging, yet rideable, for less experienced riders but exciting for advanced riders.
The system offers an array of trails, all connected, with completely different setups.
"Different foremen built the different sections and it shows," Pollock said.
Ooltewah resident Jay Bolen rides his mountain bike most weekends and has ridden most trails in the area. He drove down to Georgia to check out the newest one last week.
He complimented the trail's "flowy" course, comparing it to the trails at White Oak Mountain. For Bolen and other riders, it's an important expansion for the area.
"I don't particularly do much of the other outdoors stuff," he said. "I don't run. I don't trail run. I don't paddle. I typically stick to mountain biking I think having options spices it up, keeps people interested and brings in more people to come in for weekends and go ride."