The air hummed with tangible energy on Saturday morning, May 14 a group of 5 adults and 12 youths
from Glass House Collective gathered to catch the #10 CARTA bus together for the commute from Glass Street, in East Chattanooga, to the base of the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway in St. Elmo. The kids were very excited to be taking a trip (funded by the Active Trails grant), but were also full of nervous jitters. On board the bus, one of the activity leaders, Ryan Keller recalls the other passengers smiling, glad to see the kids out together, exploring on a Saturday in the city.
Perhaps they were also smiling as a salute to the commitment and raw nerve and energy the leaders offered up in order to pull off such an outing. Each participant had to gather courage to try a new endeavor. For the kids, the Incline Railway was a scary prospect, having never encountered anything like it before, and not fully understanding it’s functionality. Though several were nervous, one child was petrified, nearly to the point of not riding. After a few minutes, the group’s initial mockery turned to support, and all were able to ride up to the overlook.
All of their lives, the kids have seen and heard about Lookout Mountain, the most recognizable peak near the city, but the view from the top, down across the valley was a new perspective. With Saturday’s crisp weather and stiff wind, the summit near Point Park felt like a new world opening up. The group walked the short distance to visit National Historic Monument area, Point Park, and enjoy donated lunches from the YMCA at the adjacent picnic area.
During lunch, the group solidified somewhat, as they had time to play classic picnic games like Hide and Seek and Red Light/Green Light. The adults, Nicole Lewis and Ryan Keller, event assistant Jackson McDowell, and volunteers Jasmine Burns, and Braxton Colvin continually modeled manners and care with one another, checking in to be sure everyone was holding up. Herding these kids, and making sure everyone is safe and attentive, demands a deep well of energy and focus.
At 2pm, the group made its way back into the main park area for the ranger lecture from Chris Young about the particular Civil War battles fought in the area. The historical content was not actually geared for children, so the 30 min. talk did not appear to be a highlight of the day, but as the winds whipped up around the overlook, the kids did enjoy their environment immensely, and were reluctant to have to leave.
Perhaps most reluctant of all was Mercedes, the little girl who was scared stiff about riding the Incline on the trip up. But as Nikki relates, “on the way down she was amazing. She was so excited, and had truly conquered her fear of heights. We were so proud of her!” Mercedes’ transformation is an ideal illustration of the crucial value of providing stretching experiences for kids while they’re still able to grow beyond instinctive fears and explore unknown territory. Ryan confirmed that he noticed a calmer, more cohesive energy in the group upon returning to the neighborhood after the trip. The outing provided a literal “mountain top” experience, and all who participated returned bolder and with a wider view of the city around them.