If you talk to folks who grew up on Lookout Mountain about Lula Lake, you’ll inevitably hear tales of teenage troublemaking and nights of sneaking out and partying by the waterfall. You may even hear the true story of two grisly murders that took place at the lake back in 1963. The archives at the Library of Congress include Civil War photos of soldiers by the big falls. People have enjoyed the land that is now held in the Lula Lake Land Trust in a variety of ways throughout history, but never has the land been so well preserved as it is today.
Robert M. Davenport is to thank. He began acquiring property on Lookout as early as 1958. The two jewels of the Trust are the water features along the Rock Creek canyon: Lula Lake, with its dramatic emerald-blue water and small cascading falls, and Lula Falls, an awe-inspiring 80-foot waterfall.
Visitors are invited for “Open Gate Days” the first and last Saturday of every month, and the board has been adding a few open Sundays as resources allow. Community groups like the Boy Scouts use the property frequently for campouts and educational programs.
To visit, drive to the entrance gate at 5000 Lula Lake Road. A new sign designates the driveway that would otherwise be easy to miss. Park in the designated areas close to the bridge spanning Rock Creek, and check in at the new kiosk. Follow the gravel road away from the bridge and you’ll find an old railroad corridor that was part of the 17-mile Chickamauga and Durham Railroad that once served the mining operations in the area. You’ll cross Rock Creek on a modern bridge just above the cascades leading into the lake. Just past the bridge there are picnic tables above the lake. Keep going to find the falls trail, which appears on your left just before a gate with a private property sign. You will pass an old trail that has been closed. A new and more sustainably built trail to the falls makes the hike down to the base of the falls much easier than before. You can also go uphill on a trail just past the bridge that will take you up to Eagle Cliff, with an overlook of Chattanooga Valley. The trail along the creek back at the parking area is also worth exploring once you’ve seen the falls.
If you’re not lucky enough to visit on an open gate day, there are trail systems on the property that are open every day. The Five Points Recreation Area has become popular with mountain bikers. Georgia Parks operates this area as part of Cloudland Canyon State Park . The 10-year-long trail building project has created the Cloudland Connector Trail , linking the Trust property to that state park. Sixty miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback trails currently exist. All told, the Trust has put almost 10,000 acres in conservation through fee simple ownership, state park protection, and conservation easements. Three trailheads allow access to the system seven days a week and close at dusk.
You’ll notice I’ve used the word 'new' many times in describing the facilities at Lula Lake, and that credit goes to the generous donors and volunteers who have given their resources to push the Trust to always be better.
Twenty years after the founding of Lula Lake Land Trust, one can fairly say that Robert Davenport’s vision has been realized, with the Trust now protecting the Rock and Bear Creek watersheds. Conservation work never ends however, and current challenges include treating hemlock trees to hopefully prevent the wooly adelgid from harming them. This pest has wiped out hemlock groves across the Southeast, and the expense of treating trees is significant. To add to this sisyphean task, the trees have to be treated every few years. The Trust has an acquisition fund and continues to buy properties with the potential to impact these two watersheds and add them to the conserved lands.
I serve on the board of the Lula Lake Land Trust because it is rare to find such a special resource that has been protected rather than exploited. The Davenport family could have developed and sold the land around Rock Creek, but they chose to preserve it instead, and their decision has greatly benefitted the Chattanooga community.