An Unspoiled Georgia Plateau - THE LAST GREAT BARGAIN
BY BOB TERRELL
Lots at $10,000 per acre. Total log home
packages on four-to five-acre lots
from $300,000. Premier golf-course-view
home sites from $100,000.
They're all just part of one of the Southern mountains' last
undiscovered treasures - Georgia's Lookout Mountain.
Slowly but surely, Georgia's portion of Lookout Mountain, a slender, 84-mile-long tableland that runs from Chattanooga, Tenn. to Gadsden, Ala., is making its name known for something more than Rock City and Ruby Falls, two of the South's major tourist attractions.
Georgia's section of the historic mountain is rapidly growing into a huge area of new home developments that offer all of the amenities for elegant indoor and outdoor living. Originally a community of scattered getaway summer homes and a hunting/fishing mecca, the area, like much more of northern Georgia and surrounding mountain states, is now teeming with high-end communities.
New developments dot the 31 square miles of Georgia's portion of Lookout Mountain, and more are in the planning, according to George McGee, who is a developer or partner in three of the neighborhood communities: Lookout Highlands, the new Lookout Crest, and Bee Gap.
THE RIGHT PLACE
The location is ideal for development, standing less than two hours from Atlanta, Birmingham, and Nashville, with the intersection of interstates 75 and 285 in north Atlanta just an hour and 45 minutes away and 12 million people within a two-hour drive of the Lookout developments.
Lookout Mountain's geography and history are fascinating. "The mountain,'" says Pep Grimes, who with his wife Ann owns Lookout Mountain Real Estate, "is not really a mountain. It's a plateau. It's high but relatively flat up here, making it easier and less expensive to build. Home sites of all sizes and costs are plentiful, and we're not crowded, have no traffic problems and no major highways running through here.
"Baby boomers who are retiring now are just beginning to discover Lookout Mountain. It is a bonafide country-living retreat, but those who get occasional urban urges can satisfy themselves in nearby Chattanooga, only 30 to 40 minutes away, where families can find all the shopping, dining, and attractions of city life, including new parks, an art district, museums, the riverfront and a huge aquarium."
A MANY-LAYERED PASTHistory is rich in this mountain soil.
This was the location of the famous Civil War battles of Missionary Ridge, a decisive victory for the Union and Chickamauga, often called the bloodiest battle of the war, that ended in a Confederate triumph that halted the Union offensive in south central Tennessee and northwest Georgia. Those battlegrounds are nearby.
Until the mid-1800s, Lookout Mountain was called Chatanuga, an Indian word meaning "mountains looking at each other.'" The name Lookout was given to the mountain by early pioneers who warned those passing through to "be on the lookout'" for warring Indians and marauding pirates, who hid out on the mountain.
The plateau is dotted with caves, some quite extensive. The famed Ruby Falls, a spectacular 145 foot waterfall, and a multitude of strange rock formations, are located in a 260-foot cave in the limestone rock, and Ellison's Cave is noted as the deepest cave east of the Mississippi River. Its depth is 1,063 feet and in length it runs almost 12 miles. Many other caves extend for hundreds of feet in this limestone country, and the abundance of such caves make spelunking a favorite sport on Lookout.
Nearby Rock City is another of nature's products, eroded through millions of years in the mountain's native sandstone.
AN AREA OF PLUSES
The fact that Lookout Mountain is a plateau gives it several distinctive geographic advantages.
The most coveted land lies along The Brow, rock cliffs that rise 1,000 feet off the valley floor. Scenery is spectacular, making brow lots premium property. From places along The Brow, the view reaches all the way to the Great Smoky Mountains, up to 90 miles away toward Knoxville. Along the top of the mountain are exciting views to two valleys, Chattanooga Valley to the east and Lookout Valley to the west. The Brow, or cliff, raising Lookout Mountain above the valley floor, is an excellent place for hang-gliding, and a hang-gliding school is located on the plateau.
The mountains and valleys around the plateau are picturesque, and much of that area is turning into equestrian communities with rolling pastureland, training facilities, trails and beautiful homes where horseback riding prevails.
In addition, residents of all mountain communities are close to a myriad of outdoor activities: hiking, fishing, golf, rock climbing, hang gliding, canoeing, mountain bike riding and spelunking. Lookout Mountaineers are fortunate, too, that the abundant forests are hardwood-primarily oak, poplar, hickory, and sourwood; there are few pine trees. Weather is cooperative, breaking into four distinct seasons, and while winter touches the plateau, it is seldom severe. Snow falls, but only in moderate amounts and summer temperatures are rarely extreme, but comfortably warm, ideal for hiking and other outdoor sports.
THE IRRESISTIBLE FACTOR
What is it that makes the mountain so desirable?
"We sell lifestyle," says Grimes. "That's what people are looking for, and on the mountain, folks can choose the lifestyle they want."
That includes lots of things: Equestrian communities, of course. Plus energy-efficient log home communities filled with spacious, modern designs. Preservation communities dedicated to conserving most of the available land. Golf communities. Lakefront and riverfront communities. High communities commanding huge sweeping views. Lower communities at the base of the mountain. And private communities, where the size of the lots runs to several acres to ensure a sheltered style of life.
It's all there on Lookout Mountain.
A TRUE LOVE AFFAIR
Developers who are changing the face of Lookout Mountain include long-time resident landholders and at least two people who left professional careers to get back into the forests they love.
One is Chris Moore, a medical doctor, outdoorsman and staunch conservationist, who phased out his 15-year family practice and came back to Lookout Mountain, where he once lived. Moore proceeded to build the Long Branch Residential Preserve, called by some "a tree-hugger's paradise.'" A strong advocate of land protection, Moore turned 300 of the 400 acres he purchased into a conservation easement held by Lookout Mountain Land Trust. The other 100 acres have been divided into 20 home sites running from two acres to larger sizes, and priced at $250,000 and up. Half of the 20 lots have already been sold.
Until he began medical school at the age of 33, Moore was a dedicated woodsman, mountain hiker and biker. He was also director of the Sky Valley Camp for Children near Hendersonville, N.C. for several years in the 1970s and is an active member of the board of the Nature Conservancy for Tennessee and the State Conservation Board.
"I fell in love with the land," he says of his Lookout Mountain location, "and when it became available, I bought it."
Steve Baker is also one who moved from his other life back into nature and is developing The Farm at Chelsea at the base of Lookout Mountain at a 900-foot elevation that offers panoramic views of mountains and valley. A former banker, Baker left his position, purchased the land for The Farm, and has put 130 acres into Phase 1 on the east side of Lookout in Chattooga County, GA.
MORE ON THE DRAWING BOARD
Baker is also beginning work on another community to be called Lahusage on the top of the mountain. It will have 100-foot frontage lots on the Little River, the longest river in North America to run its course entirely on top of a mountain. The road was cut into Lahusage by mid-November, and the project is expected to progress rapidly from there.
Andy Krinkle has taken a novel approach to conservation in his Cloudland Lodge & The Village projects. He has remodeled a large old house into a clubhouse for The Village, which will contain 120 acres, and is in the process of trying to purchase 80 acres more. Access to the lodge will be free for all residents, and the lodge will be available for events such as weddings, retreats, and other social gatherings. The unusual approach: Krinkle is selling easements of 1,000 square feet for building lots. Home sites on The Brow overlooking miles of beautiful country will sell for $95,000. Residents will own the land their homes sit on, but the remainder of their property will be under easement.
BREATHTAKING NATURAL BEAUTY
George McGee, the old-timer among Lookout Mountain developers, can claim 2,000 choice mountain acres on a site which he named Lookout Highlands. Included on his property are 700 acres of non-building conservation land that contain an 80-foot waterfall with acres of green space, hiking trails, forest, and waterfalls in this development. Two canyon areas are also included in it.
Lookout Highlands is large enough to accommodate another unusual development, Highland Forest, which will contain only log homes.
Highland Forest is an exclusive planned Barna Log Home community located within Lookout Highlands in a beautiful hardwood forest. There are 18 lots of four or five acres each here with a total log home package from Barna, which will run from $300,000 to $600,000. Said to be 35% more energy efficient than other structures, these designs may be built from multiple log species in square or round profiles, and in seven standard and custom models. Local Barna Log Homes broker and builder Joe Folsom narrowed choices within Highland Forest to a few solid designs that he believes will work unfailingly for the novice or even the educated log homebuyer.
BUILDING ON SMART IDEAS
To advertise his new development, Folsom formed a partnership with Chattanooga public television station WTCI to publicize his Highland Forest development by raffling off a completely built log home and giving the proceeds toward the completion of a new WTCI broadcast facility for the station. George McGee, owner-builder of Lookout Highlands, donated land for the project, which was designed to sell $100 raffle tickets.
Construction of the home was being filmed and aired as TV shows each Thursday and Saturday, and a Drawing help Dec. 10 to select the home's winner.
In addition to those developments that choose to protect much of their land, three state parks lie on the Georgia portion of Lookout Mountain. The largest is Cloudland Canyon State Park, which offers many recreational opportunities within its 3,485 acres.
SMART BUYING CHOICE
Prospective buyers who come to Lookout Mountain seek space first of all, a place to get away from suburbia where there will be no neighbors at their elbows. They're also looking for water for boating, swimming, and fishing. Many others seek pastureland, and there are hundreds of acres excellent for equestrian use. Finally, they want woods. The forests, plentiful here, are of pristine beauty.
Dade County, including the large Lookout Highlands development, has probably been responsible for selling some lots via economic incentives. The county has been so pleased with attracting potential homebuyers that it has exempted 65-year-old buyers who purchase five acres or less from paying the school portion of property tax, a break amounting to about 70 percent of the total tax.
Some Chattanooga City leaders are taking note of the settlements on Lookout Mountain. And they like what they see.
"One of Chattanooga's greatest assets is the incredible natural environment that surrounds us," observes Tom Edd Wilson of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. "The developments on Lookout Mountain have tremendous potential to attract people who could have a very positive impact on Chattanooga's economy and talent mix.
But closer to home, the Lookout Mountain future couldn't look better.
"We're busy every day," says realtor Pep Grimes. "Things are booming, and looking ahead, I can see an even bigger blast."
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