Back in May 2006, a handful of trails enthusiasts were flirting with the idea of luring the makers of the Great Eastern Trail — a planned 10,000-mile alternative to the Appalachian Trail that may someday stretch from Florida to the Finger Lakes of New York and maybe west to North Dakota — through Chattanooga.
The newspaper wrote a story or two. Some readers rolled their eyes and muttered something to the effect that they would "believe-it-when-I-see it." And most of us promptly forgot it.
About a year later, Trust for Public Land's Rick Wood leaned over a huge table with a glass-covered map of the region and pointed to the color-coded dots that separated locally dreamed Chattanooga-specific finished trails and Tennessee Riverwalk areas from daydream paths.
Now some 10 years later, the daydreams are looking more real every day, and as Wood said then and probably at least a thousand times since: "So much of Chattanooga's story is about our geography and about embracing our mountains and the river. This is just another way of being able to be connect to that."
On Tuesday, we learned that the Chickamauga Dam and Cloudland Canyon near Rising Fawn, Ga., are just 2.9 miles of new trail away from being connected for ambitious hikers and mountain bikers.
Is that super cool, or what?
By our rough calculation, that's moving on toward 40 miles of almost-non-stop trail.
And a big, big chunk of it goes right through the heart of Chattanooga — along our 13-mile (and counting) Tennessee Riverwalk, up Lookout Mountain by way of the Guild Trail to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park trails over Lookout Mountain, to the Lula Lake Land Trust trails and eventually to the Cloudland Canyon trail system.
Wow. Just wow!
In 2012, it became official. The Great Eastern Trail would make Chattanooga the largest city that a long-distance trail passes through.
Warren Devine, a Great Eastern Trail board member and an Oak Ridge volunteer for Tennessee's Cumberland Trail Conference since 1998, said at the time that the trail will build on Chattanooga's outdoor reputation as an outdoors mecca.
You bet it will. Imagine having a morning cup of coffee looking out on the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga, then bikepacking over Lookout Mountain to camp that night in Cloudland Canyon.
Bring on a brand new kind of Ironman — better still, Ironwoman — competition.
For now, 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 the network of trails between our Riverwalk and Cloudland Canyon, the popular Georgia state park. The $50,000 to $60,000 job is expected to be completed in July — probably about the same time a tiny missing piece is completed between South Broad Street and St. Elmo.
A local foundation has pledged $40,000 toward the Lula Lake project and individual donors have accounted for another $5,100 so far, according to Lula Lake Land Trust Development Director Kat Volzer.
You can help and have a little cold fun at the same time. Open Facebook to https://www.facebook.com/events/176135969520587/ and buy a $50 ticket for the Lula Lake Polar Plunge on New Year's Day.
Yes, it's your chance to swim in the usually off-limits but beautiful Lula Lake.
The gates open at noon, and proceeds will benefit the Lula Lake Land Trust project. Tickets include all-you-can-drink hot chocolate, apple cider, and bloody marys. Spectators may attend free.
The trail is calling.