What makes Lookout Mountain home

It’s summer on Lookout Mountain, which means it’s time to #LookOUTDOORS! Spend the night in our new tree house hotel, bike one of our many trails or soar above the brow with Lookout Mountain’s hang gliding school.

If the heat’s too much for you, why not explore Lookout Mountain Underground or take a break for ice cream at one of these cool spots. Tell us your favorite summer spot on our Facebook page (#lookoutdoors).

Rock City's Resident Pass

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If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Unless you’re talking about Rock City’s Lookout Mountain Resident Pass, which allows you to see one of the South’s most iconic tourist attractions for FREE (basically).

“When we took ownership in the late ‘80’s, we realized that folks who lived on Lookout Mountain had some very minor inconveniences related to visitors such as seasonal traffic,” says owner Bill Chapin. “I decided that if a resident with a valid local I.D. wanted to visit Rock City, we would let them in free for a lifetime after one ticket was purchased.”

I decided that if a resident with a valid local I.D. wanted to visit Rock City, we would let them in free for a lifetime after one ticket was purchased.

Not surprisingly, the program was an instant hit. Virtually every kid on the Mountain had one in their wallet, many using it as their first photo I.D. “I know kids who used their Rock City Resident Pass as I.D. to get in and out of Jamaica,” laughs Bill.

But membership has declined a bit over the years, with many longtime residents unaware a program still exists. The original program included people in adjoining counties, but today is limited to those living in 30750 or 37350 zip codes. The Resident Pass is not officially listed on Rock City’s website, but they’ve sent postcards and advertised it in local publications such as the Mountain Mirror, says Chapin.

The pass is even valid during special events such as Fairytale Nights and the Enchanted Garden of Lights – a nationally recognized event that welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year. Special event admission is restricted to Sunday through Wednesday. If you’d like to visit during the peak days of Thursday through Saturday, you simply pay an upcharge worth half the ticket price.

The Resident Pass also gives you access to one of Rock City’s latest dining upgrades – Café 7. Opened in 2013, the open-air café at Lover’s Leap allows you to soak in the seven-state view while gnoshing on modern Southern cuisine. It’s especially appealing now when ballads from bluegrass band, Old Time Travelers, are wafting through the dining area for Rock City’s Summer Music Festival.

Once only open on weekends, Café 7 has expanded to daily service, 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. (Memorial Day through Labor Day). During the spring and fall, Café 7 offers Thursday through Sunday service. Starting later this month the bar will remain open until 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday (until Labor Day) and offer selections from the starters and snacks menu.

As if Rock City doesn’t give enough to our community, they’d like to offer a free appetizer or dessert per family to the first 20 Living On Lookout readers who email us at editor@livingonlookout.com. Submit your name, email and phone number to enter.

Homecoming for Alan and Bonny Shuptrine

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They say you can’t go home. But that’s not how Alan Shuptrine sees it. In fact, his upcoming art exhibition and coffee table book will likely spark in all of us a desire to return to the familiar.

It all started with a late night epiphany in 2012. Although nationally renowned for his museum-quality gold leaf frames, Shuptrine had been feeling restless; pulled to pursue his other career as a watercolorist.

I woke up at 3 a.m., shook my wife, Bonny and said, ‘I know what I want to paint,’” he recalls.

That’s how The Serpentine Chain Collection was born – 60 watercolor paintings dedicated to the beauty and mystery of the Appalachian Mountain culture. Already on the 26th painting, Shuptrine will spend the remainder of the year doing four-day stints along the Appalachian Trail.

“I hike the trail with all my senses turned on, experiencing the little towns along the way,” he says. “I go out with my sketch pad, watercolors and camera; then, upon returning home, I create the major painting from loose studies and numerous reference photos.”

I hike the trail with all my senses turned on, experiencing the little towns along the way.

When he’s done, the collection will tour up to 10 museums up and down the Eastern Seaboard, beginning at the Tennessee State Museum in downtown Nashville on June 8, 2017. Ultimately, Shuptrine plans to turn the collection into a book, partnering with New York Times best-selling author, Sharyn McCrumb.

The journey is a homecoming on many levels. Growing up the son of famed watercolorist Herbert Shuptrine, Alan couldn’t claim a hometown until he was a teenager. He had lived in 20 cities before settling on Lookout Mountain in sixth grade because his father was always “chasing the light elsewhere.” The one common factor, however, was that the family was always close to the Appalachian Mountains.

After extensive research, Shuptrine uncovered something that could explain that coincidence. A dark green mineral called serpentine snakes its way up the entire mountain chain from North Georgia to Maine. Across the ocean in the British Isles, this same mineral is found running from Cornwall to the Arctic Circle, proving that the Eastern Seaboard and Great Britain were once connected.

That means when the 18th century settlers moved into the Appalachians, they were actually coming home to the same mountains they left an ocean away – they just didn’t know it. Their Celtic traditions still thrive in the area today such as quilt making patterns, whiskey making and fiddle tunes.

When you ask people why they choose to live somewhere they often say ‘it just feels right,’” says Shuptrine. “In this case, there is a buried mineral acting like some sort of magnet. That feeling of home, of familiarity, is what I hope to capture with this series.

There will be at least one painting from each of the 14 states that touch the Appalachian Trail, but Shuptrine isn’t holding to any strict formula. Much like Celtic settlers, he plans to follow the ancient road led by instinct rather than GPS.

“People ask me ‘How do you know what to paint?’” he says. “I don’t. I take these trips hoping to see something that inspires me. It might be a shadow hitting a building a certain way, or a special face that tells a story.”

Shuptrine’s project has taken almost a lifetime to realize, but not for lack of talent. Painting at his father’s feet since preschool, Shuptrine was honored in 2011 as one of 10 artists selected for The Vero Beach Museum’s Art exhibit, “In the Tradition of Wyeth – Contemporary Watercolor Masters.”

“It’s been very difficult to become the artist I’ve wanted to be,” he says. “There have been times I’ve wanted to selfishly create 24/7, but there have been lacrosse games or fishing trips. I wouldn’t change it for the world and I’m thankful for the family memories we’ve created. It’s just been hard to wait.”

There were also several successful businesses: Shuptrine Gold Leaf Designs (a fine arts gallery and custom framing/restoration business) and Shuptrine Twisted Products (a line of artisan food products inspired by Appalachian recipes). Since getting into the framing business in 1985, Shuptrine has framed hundreds of masterpieces from world-renowned artists, including Andrew Wyeth. Last year, Twisted was available in 37 states and 60 stores in the tri-state region. The Shuptrines have depended on these ventures for their livelihood. Bonny joined Alan in the gallery business in 1997 as director of marketing and sales, and helped launch Twisted two years ago. With their two sons, Jake and Ben, now headed for college, the couple felt now was the time to step away. Bonny plans to join Alan later this year on his painting trips and the two will likely tour with the exhibition, providing gallery talks at each venue. This means downsizing their Lookout Mountain home where they’ve lived since their boys were in elementary school. Even so, the couple feels like things have come full circle. Alan has always dreamed of doing a coffee table book like his father, who in the ‘70s partnered with author James Dickey for “Jericho: The South Beheld.” His experience as a framer allows him to marry each painting to its frame, embedding a piece of serpentine in each one.

The serpentine was Bonny’s idea,” he says. “Her marketing expertise and clever ideas are why we’ve been successful as a fine arts gallery. She’s constantly looking at things to their fullest potential. I couldn’t do this without her.

While the Shuptrines will likely spend many months away, they will always call Lookout Mountain home. In fact it was Bonny who insisted on settling here when they married, saying it reminded her of her hometown Asheville, NC. Alan certainly isn’t going to argue with that.

Whenever I’m going through the ridge cut and see Lookout Mountain’s silhouette, I feel a sense of city pride,” he says. “No matter where I’ve been, no matter how fabulous, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

Lookout Mountain Conservancy's New Garden Project

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Often when you plant a garden, unexpected things crop up. That was the case when the Lookout Mountain Conservancy added a gardening component to their Howard School Intern program. Of course, “unexpected” is nothing new for this groundbreaking partnership.

“I’m constantly amazed by the transformation of these kids,” says CEO Robyn Carlton. “I don’t think anyone could have guessed the impact it’s had on all of us.”

When LMC started their summer intern program two years ago, most of the students had never been on the other side of Broad Street – let alone spent time in the woods. Now they deftly swing brush trimmers and blowers. They can identify invasive species and work several hours in the broiling sun. And they love every minute of it.

“Many kids have told me this property is the safest place in their life,” says Carlton. “If you don’t have the basic necessities…food, clothing, shelter…then you can’t think past the moment. When they’re out here they feel like they can do anything. It gives them a place to dream.”

The new garden also helps solve another huge hurdle in their lives: food security. Kids who once relied on cookies and chips are now eating sugar snap peas and kale chips. Almost everything they eat from their garden is a first.

“We grilled zucchini and squash, and when they tried it their faces just lit up,” recalls Carlton. “It’s been like stepping from a dark room into a light room for them.”

This isn’t the first year the interns have planted a garden; it’s just the first time they’ve gotten good at it, she says. That’s in large part to Master Gardener Kathleen Robinson, a Lookout Mountain resident who volunteers once a week.

She expanded the plot from one bed to 10, and has taught the kids about compost, fish emulsion fertilizer and companion planting. Basil and marigolds naturally deter pests from the neat rows of vegetables, and there’s hardly a weed in site.

“They’re taking so much pride in this,” beams Carlton. “One student said it’s his favorite thing because he takes the knowledge home. He says it’s one of the coolest things he gets to do with his grandmother.”

Much like the garden, everything about The Howard School Intern program has grown organically. It started when the Conservancy needed help clearing a piece of property they own off Wauhatchie Pike. Howard was looking for volunteer opportunities for their students so a few workdays were scheduled.

When both parties realized the mutual benefits, LMC developed a paid summer internship program. There was a rigorous interview process, accepting only eight out of 18 applicants the first year. This summer there are 19 kids (10 interns and 9 apprentices).

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the whole project is what it means for the community in the near future. In a little less than two years, the Riverwalk will reach Lookout Mountain at the edge of the Wauhatchie property. Thousands of people will have easier access to the outdoors, and the Howard interns are playing a role in the much anticipated project.

Future plans include an impressive park, playground and even a residential component. When that happens, the garden will be no more. So LMC and Howard are already planning to relocate it to a vacant space on Howard’s campus, creating a large teaching garden that will help feed the community – hopefully in more ways than one.

“It’s been incredible to watch the kids taping into the power of the land,” says Conservancy CEO Robyn Carlton. “It’s our mission to protect the unique natural resources of Lookout Mountain. But what we’re learning is those natural resources can help solve other problems in our community.”

Want to help? Get your tickets to Hot Fun in the Summertime - a low country broil and band at the Crash Pad that supports the Howard School Interns.

One Stop Shopping on Lookout Mountain

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If your summer plans include a beach trip, the Lookout Mountain business district needs to be your first stop. From sun hats to cover ups, they have everything you need to prepare for (and recover from) your week away. And for the month of July, you can get them at a discount.

Living On Lookout is excited to announce our new partnership with the businesses of Lookout Mountain. Each month they will offer exclusive discounts for our readers only. Items will be seasonally appropriate, saving you time AND money on the things you need most.

Deals will be available all month long, but only while supplies last. Check back at the beginning of each month for our "One Stop Shop" posts. (Of course, check more often if you want to know the latest Lookout Mountain news.) If you're really feeling generous, share the posts with your friends.

yessick's - discount

Yessick's 20% off all sunglasses, hats and beach totes While known for home décor, Yessick's is also packed with accessories to keep YOU stylish. Don't miss your chance to snag designer inspired sunglasses from Vox ($9.95) or canvas totes from The Royal Standard ($30 - $60). Your next perfect beach hat awaits; with rack after rack of wide brimmed styles in canvas and straw ($10 - $20).

mountain escape spa - discount

Lookout Mountain Spa 20% off Cabana Life swimwear Lookout Mountain Spa wants to pamper AND protect your skin this summer. Don't get burned by typical cover-ups, which are often the equivalent of SPF 5. Founded by melanoma survivor Melissa Papock, Cabana Life boasts SPF 50 protection and "beach club chic" styling that's earned a celebrity following ($45 - $75).

talus - discount

Talus Half Priced Appetizers on Tuesdays and Thursdays; 5:00 p.m. until close Get a taste of the shore without leaving Lookout Mountain. Talus' Brothers Devil Shrimp appetizer may become your favorite summer indulgence, featuring spicy fried shrimp tossed in a tomato and lemon pepper vodka cream sauce. Grab this and other apps ($6.95 - $10.95) for half-price every Tuesday and Thursday in July. Be sure to also check out the featured drink of the month.

Fourth of July Festivities on Lookout Mountain

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Before rushing off to your cookouts or pool parties, be sure to check out some patriotic celebrations happening this week on Lookout Mountain.

Independence Eve Sunset Stroll Free

Gather your friends for a sunset stroll along some of the prettiest streets in America. Hope Newberry, a GPS high school student who coordinated the New Year community walk, invites everyone to gather again with neighbors to celebrate our nation. To participate, meet at the intersection of North Watauga and North Bragg Avenue at 7:10 p.m. Walkers will depart at 7:25 p.m. and once again enjoy police escort. The route will go up North Bragg toward Point Park, along West Brow for beautiful bluff views, then back to North Watauga. Parking is available at Lookout Mountain School or Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church and friendly dogs on a leash welcome. If you live along the route, feel free to cheer the procession on from your front lawn. Rain date will be the following morning at 8:30 a.m.

Cannon Firings and Park Ranger Tours at Point Park $5 admission for ages 16 and over

If you’ve ever imagined what it must have been like to hear the Point Park cannons booming across the valley, here’s your chance. The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Military Park will be holding artillery demonstrations at 10:30, 11:30, 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. In addition to the firing of a Civil War cannon, programs will explore how our nation was both established and preserved through conflict. Park rangers will lead 30-minute tours of Point Park at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Admission to the park is $5 for adults 16 and over and is valid for seven days.

Craven’s House Tour Free

The doors to the Craven’s House are only open a few times each year. Don’t miss your chance to tour this Civil War landmark with its Fourth of July Open House, held this Saturday from 1:00 until 5 p.m. Park rangers will be onsite to answer questions and tour the house. There is no admission fee for Craven’s House.

Civil War Railroad Program at Reflection Riding Free

Learn the role the railroads played in the campaign for Chattanooga and throughout the Civil War with this free program. Held this Saturday at 2:00 p.m., experts will discuss how Chattanooga’s extensive rail system made it a key battleground, as well as its role moving both troops and supplies into battle. Meet at the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center parking lot (400 Garden Road, Chattanooga, TN), where you can caravan to program locations along the railroad. It’s recommended you bring a lawn chair, weather-appropriate clothing and plenty of water.

Fairyland Club Fireworks

The Fairyland Club will be launching their annual fireworks show this Saturday at dark (approximately 8:30). The poolside party and buffet dinner are for members only, but many people gather in the valley or along the bluff to watch the show from afar.

Local Reactions to Proposed High School for Lookout Mountain

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Locals have been both surprised and excited at the prospect of a new charter school for Lookout Mountain. While still not formally approved by the state, Lula Lake Academy hopes to open its doors by next fall. Immediate plans include offering grades 6th through 8th, adding a high school grade sequentially each year. We caught up with some local residents to hear their reactions.

While I was surprised to hear about the school, I am excited as well. Obviously they have a long way to go, but the prospect for the children up here is very encouraging. If anyone is familiar with Rabun Gap School in North Georgia, this seems to be modeled somewhat along those lines. Rabun Gap, with a 1,400 acre campus, is both boarding and day school. It will be interesting to see this progress. Of course it would be nice to have this available for the Tennessee students as well. - Don Stinnett, Education Commissioner, Lookout Mountain, TN

It is a wonderful opportunity for the communities of Lookout Mountain in Dade and Walker counties. It is such a beautiful area; a middle and high school will only serve to make the community more desirable. - Dawn Pettway, Lookout Mountain Resident

I and my office have been working closely with Debra Tringale and recruiting several Georgia citizens to facilitate the involvement in this project as I feel it is of utmost importance to the communities of Lookout Mountain to pursue this educational opportunity. The new school should become a draw to folks looking at our community in order to relocate from any other part of town as well as out-of-towners looking to settle in the Chattanooga area. The school’s intimacy and focus upon the environment, emphasis on higher education, and the trades will make it very desirable for attendees as well as students’ interest level. Also, with the level of financial costs for our exceptional private schools, the Lula Lake Academy will be an excellent alternative for many students and parents. We are 100 % in favor of the school and its concepts. - Charlie Walldorf, co-owner of Herman Walldorf & Co., Inc.

While we are not directly involved, it is our understanding that the focus of the Lula Lake Academy will be the natural world, with an emphasis on natural systems as the learning environment and classroom. The mission of this school is consistent with what we do at Lula Lake Land Trust. Our mission is to preserve the natural and historic landscapes surrounding Rock Creek and Bear Creek (and their tributaries) through conservation, education, and low impact recreation. Lula Lake Land Trust routinely hosts schools groups at our property, including fossil hunts, water and habitat education. Our intention is to work with the Lula Lake Academy to do similar programs to support its curriculum. - Brad Cobb, Chairman of Lula Lake Land Trust

I was surprised to hear about the possibility of a new school, but am excited about the news. I'm sure there are many unanswered questions, but I hope that this school will allow children from both sides of the mountain to attend. - Jack Webb, Crye-Leike Realtor

Read more about the school.

Clumpie's Opens Two Locations for Lookout Mountain

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Can’t stand the heat? Eat some ice cream!

Chattanooga’s beloved ice cream store, Clumpie’s recently opened two locations for Lookout Mountain. The one at the foot of Lookout, located in the St. Elmo Incline Railway station, opened in March with lots of media coverage. They even created a new flavor to pay homage to their new ‘hood – a Mayan-spiced chocolate with cayenne candied pecans called St. Elmo’s Fire.

Several months later, they quietly opened a walk-up window at the top of Lookout, located in the back of the Battlefield Visitor’s Center near Point Park. Open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m., the new spot makes it almost too easy to get your summertime ice cream fix.

Clumpie’s Ice Cream has been keeping Chattanooga cool with its handcrafted flavors since 1999, when they opened a small shop on Frazier Avenue. A loyal following formed quickly thanks to original flavor combinations and quality ingredients (their Key Lime ice cream literally has chunks of key lime pies in it).

Rock City purchased the company in 2013 with plans to grow the brand. They’ve tossed around ideas such as sporting event service or food trucks. For now, Lookout Mountain is grateful to reap the sweet benefits of expansion.

Mojo St. Elmo Returns Tomorrow

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Artist Steve Terlizzese putting his spin on "Stairway to Heaven"

Tomorrow, Lookout Mountain gets its Mojo back.

It’s just been one week since the original Mojo Burrito closed its doors to make the move across the street. The colorful new building atop the hill has been taking shape for months, but the finishing touches have run down to the wire.

“I’m on about third shift right now,” says owner Eve Williams. It’s well past 10 p.m. Tuesday night, and she hopes to catch a few winks before the final Health Department inspection and her appearance before the Beer Board on Thursday – also her opening day.

While this marks Williams’ sixth buildout, each one has been totally different and with its own set of challenges. “It’s kind of like having kids,” she jokes. “But totally worth it in the end.”

You could say the small brick building on St. Elmo Avenue was always her problem child. It was her very first location in 2002, converted from an old pottery shop. Williams introduced Chattanooga to the fresh-mex burrito shop concept and was virtually an overnight success. But since her landlord wouldn’t let her install a vent for the stove, the kitchen has never been able to properly handle its volume. The challenge forced her to be creative from the beginning, first renting a secondary kitchen across the street; then opening a second location downtown. When the Red Bank store opened in 2007 – now her No. 1 volume location – it became the kitchen for St. Elmo, requiring food deliveries once or twice a day. The situation was taxing to say the least. So when an opportunity arose to upgrade her space without leaving the neighborhood, she jumped at the chance.

It definitely felt like the right place; right time,” she says. “It’s hard to leave your nest but we’re not really leaving – we just flew to the next branch.

The new, larger space remains true to its roots with loads of local artwork inside and out, including graphic, rainbow-colored stairs leading to the front door. You’ll still find the tried and true Mojo menu, but Williams is already eyeing expansion (she’s tossing around the idea of a breakfast menu). For those die-hard Mojo fans grieving the change, Williams is excited to announce she will be holding onto the building that started it all. She isn’t disclosing her plans just yet, but promises a non-food concept that everyone can enjoy.

It will be a special space,” she says. “It’s my home and I want to still be there. I hope to transition it into a labor of love for everyone who’s gotten me here.

Update on Lookout Mountain's Treehouse Hotel

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Andrew Alms and Enoch Elwell had a feeling Chattanoogans would dig sleeping in a tree. But the tidal wave of enthusiasm and support they've received has surpassed even their wildest dreams.

In less than six months they’ve secured 30-plus corporate partners for their treehouse hotel, recently named Treetop Hideaways. Their Kickstarter campaign raised a whopping $33,333 with 232 backers, and folks from all over have donated product, money and services. Many have even shown up at the construction site to swing a hammer.

Everyone connects to the concept, but it's been really neat to see how deeply those connections run,” says Alms.

Perhaps the excitement has to do with the project's participation in the Living Building Challenge, the most rigorous performance standard in the building industry. One implication (of many) requires the structure actually produce 5% more water and electricity than it consumes. Once complete, the hybrid hotel will be the first treehouse in the world to earn this prestigious designation.

Many fellow "tree huggers" have gone above and beyond to help make the project a reality. When a formal survey revealed their property line fell short of original estimates - thereby threatening the entire project - their neighbor Rock City quickly and generously agreed to a land lease.

EPB has been instrumental in helping plan the electrical and alternative energy systems, and arborist Scott Wood of Timberline Tree and Lawn Care drove down from his Memphis office one weekend to personally help eradicate the pervasive Chinese Privet.

And while things are coming together, the project hasn’t been without some knots. There are no shortcuts when you have to haul every material up a steep hill by hand. Extra consideration must be made for virtually every aspect of the project. Not only is the building site unique, perched atop a boulder and two trees, but piecing all of the reclaimed building materials together feels a bit like a giant Rubik's Cube.

Again, their supporters stepped up. From the funds to get the project going to the materials used and the many, many hands that carried them up the hill and put them on the treehouse, "this has been a team effort," says Alms. Even the Powerade that fueled those volunteers was donated by Coca-Cola Bottling, who signed on early as a five year corporate partner.

A friend of Elwell's donated an 1860's barn to provide much of the exposed reclaimed lumber used throughout the treehouse, and Rudd Montgomery of Push Hard Lumber helped the team source the specialty pieces. He even milled a few timbers when they ran short hanging the exposed beam ceiling.

Sourcing new materials hasn't been much easier. Every sealant, grout, epoxy and stain must meet the stringent Living Building standards. This means Alms has had to contact several companies for a list of their proprietary ingredients, then follow up with advocacy letters for declaring their products eco-friendly status. Happily Michael Walton of GreenSpaces and Sam Young of Green's Building Supply have been early supporters, helping them vet materials and supplies throughout the project.

I am continually amazed at how many things take extra time,” laughs Alms. “But it’s worth it to take the time to be creative.

Creativity is a cornerstone of the treehouse project. The two hope to create a special hideaway that allows guests to recapture the imagination of their youth and reconnect to the natural world around them.

Driving up to the site you're greeted by a natural spring. Bees swarm the purple flowers hugging it's bank, while tadpoles swim happily in the clear water. The treehouse is a short walk up the hill, and the temperature seemingly drops five degrees once you step inside the old-growth forest.

From the treehouse's back porch, which offers a beautiful view of Hawkins Ridge, you catch a breeze that Alms says is nearly constant.

"Nature's air conditioner," he smiles. "All the time I've been working up here - when I'm not hauling materials up the hill - I can usually go without sweating."

The structure is wrapped in a bright orange, eco-friendly air barrier - another generous donation by Vaproshield rep, Aaron Gould. Gould also introduced them to Roxul Insulation, who donated all of the insulation used in the project.

The few remaining items on the punchlist include the exterior wood siding, bathroom and finishing touches to the windows salvaged from a Southside factory. All are underway, and Alms says they hope to let down the draw bridge later this month (there is literally a drawbridge entrance – one of many playful design elements.)

Others include the shower pan in the bathroom - a halved Chattanooga Whiskey barrel. The bathroom floor will be pennies set in epoxy, representing everyone who has helped the project since sapling status.

"We are eternally grateful to all of our supporters, and count many of them as new friends," says Elwell.

They would like to secure a few more backers to help with finishing touches as well as foster future plans. They envision up to eight units in the next three to five years, highlighting other natural features on property such as the gurgling creek. With backgrounds in both construction and start-ups, they've dreamt big since the beginning. Their capital campaign was ambitiously fast, as was their construction timeline. Then again, in the treehouse business, the sky is the limit.

Lookout Mountain Underground

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Lookout Mountain has a deep, dark secret. Underneath the charming houses and sunlit paths lies a world known by few; explored by even fewer. These brave souls are called cavers.

“Lookout Mountain is basically hollow,” says Tripp Lichtefeld, a beloved bartender at the Fairyland Club. “From Point Park to the Fairyland Club there are probably 20 to 30 caves, and that’s less than 3 miles. Lookout Mountain stretches at least 90 miles.”

Lookout Mountain is basically hollow.

Our area is known within caving circles as a worldwide destination. But those circles are rather small. The sport remains tight-lipped about cave entrances and maps. Cavers learn the ropes from other cavers, like some underground fraternity.

That’s not to say you can’t dive in. Lichtefeld is always willing to take first-timers along. The secretive nature of the sport is for safety reasons.

Caving is inherently dangerous if you’re not prepared or equipped,” he explains. “I’ve almost gotten stuck, I’ve had equipment fail while dangling almost 400 feet in the air, I’ve run out of rope. You have to always be aware. When I’m caving, I’m not thinking about anything else.

People have gotten lost in caves, and hypothermia can quickly set in underground. If you’re a member of the National Speleological Society you might have access to cave surveys, but exploring them still requires you to mentally note specific formations along your route, periodically looking backwards to note what it will look like on your way out.

It’s an acquired skill,” says Lichtefeld. “You may have a map but ultimately you have to figure it out as you go, which is what makes it such an adventure.

Falls are another common hazard. At any given time, you might have to slide across a tiny ledge on your stomach, with nothing but dark expanses below. Other times, caving is like a leisurely stroll through a subway tunnel.

Each cave is different, which is the main attraction for folks like Lichtefeld. He also appreciates the quirky wildlife that have adapted to life without light, such as the translucent crawfish with no pigment or eyes.

It’s the closest you can come to being an astronaut on Earth,” he says. “It’s truly like being on another planet.

When Lichtefeld isn’t working at the Fairyland Club, he’s either caving or trying to locate and survey undiscovered caves. He’s underground at least once a week, and while he’s explored more than a hundred different caves from here to Kentucky, he rarely sees the need to venture far from home.

Lookout Mountain is home to so many great caves and there’s potential for many great caves still,” he says. “A huge flood or uprooted tree could reveal the next one, and it could be the biggest one yet. That’s exciting to me.


Those interested in diving into the sport can join one of the NSS’s local clubs, known as “Grottos.” Chattanooga’s Grotto has approximately 50 members and regularly sponsors trips, offers training and teaches conservation. To learn more, visit the NSS’s website.

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