By John Pierce
Images of Lula Lake and its cascading falls — atop Lookout Mountain where Georgia nears Tennessee — were popular during the postcard era. You can find them on eBay with dates like 1902, 1910 and 1924.
Scenic views, cool water and mountain air made for a relaxing gathering space, especially on Sundays when for many anything more strenuous than lifting a fork was regarded as sin.
Over time, however, the area began to show signs of overuse and other abuses. Then, on Easter Sunday 1966, the heinous murder of two teenagers there cast a shadow of fear and shame on the once postcard-perfect mountain setting.
By the way, the crime reportedly influenced the fiction writing of Cormac McCarthy who was in Knoxville at the time and would have read the news reports.
Although the murder suspect lived in the small community off the mountain in which I was raised, any discussions of the murders were shielded from my awareness as a 10-year-old. (That was more easily done before social media and nonstop, sensationalized news cycles.)
Easy access to the lake and falls on private land was cut off and the abandoned space became a convenient dumping ground. Figuratively, it was all down hill from there.
A half-century later, however, the green-blue lake, falls and surrounding mountain land have been reclaimed thanks to the foresight and generosity of the late Robert M. Davenport and the ongoing work of those charged with protecting this lovely natural resource.
Efforts to counter the impact of overuse, dumping, mining and logging have resulted in a refreshing experience of natural beauty for those who walk the mountain trails today — as my daughters and I did over Labor Day weekend.
The Lula Lake Land Trust was established in 1994 according to the will of Mr. Davenport who began quietly acquiring the mountain land decades earlier. Since his death the environmentally protected and restored land in trust has grown from 1,200 to more than 8,000 acres (lulalake.org).
Also a new trail system now connects Lula Lake Land Trust with beautiful Cloudland Canyon State Park, providing more than 60 miles of total hiking trails across this part of Lookout Mountain.
This great work of reclamation is the result of seeing and seeking a better way. It is rooted in acknowledging the need for change and then taking the patient, careful and blister-producing efforts that allow for renewal or rebirth.
Walking within the reclaimed land of trees, mountains, soil, greenery, mushrooms and wildlife can clear the cobwebs of overloaded and distracted minds. It can give fresh perspective to our own needs to be reclaimed from whatever mars our very beings: anxiety, anger, fear or self-centeredness.
Often, we need to be restored to our intended purpose. Reclamation is at the very heart of the grand and ancient biblical story — although too often it gets over-packaged and mislabeled to serve some other personal, organizational or nationalistic purpose.
Sadly, there is a tendency to reduce the Gospel message to a formula rather than a radical reorientation.
Too often it gets presented as mechanical rather than relational, transactional rather than transformative, instant rather than ongoing, and legalistically cumbersome rather than spiritually freeing.
Yet spiritual reclamation, flowing like mountain waterfalls, meets the greatest of human needs — allowing that which is old and destructive to give way to that which is fresh and freeing.