Nobody Called Us Conservationists
One of the South’s most prolific advocates, Allen McCallie continues the work of protecting open space for everyone to enjoy.
Story by Deborah Petticord
Photography by David Andrews and courtesy of Allen McCallie
Among the family members and childhood friends of Allen McCallie, the enjoyment of open spaces was a given fact. “Nobody called us conservationists at the time, but we always hiked, hunted, camped and fished. We watched for migratory birds and searched for wildflowers,” says McCallie. “These were not exceptions, but part of the everyday fabric of life in Chattanooga.”
He credits his late parents, Maddin and Dr. David McCallie with creating a home where he learned to appreciate the South’s outdoor environment. He is an avid fly fisherman and bird hunter. He is also a proponent of smart growth, and while it might seem that economic growth would be at odds with conservation, McCallie says it is not.
“I believe conservation is not anti-growth, but is critical to growth,” he says. “Our community has the opportunity to be an example of balancing economic growth and open space protection.”
For 20 years he has actively supported the development of important conservation projects in and near Chattanooga, including The Tennessee RiverWalk, North and South Chickamauga Creek Greenways, Aetna Mountain, Coolidge Park, Renaissance Park, the Tennessee River Gorge, Stringer’s Ridge, and the Lula Lake trail system. An attorney since 1980 and member of Miller & Martin PLLC, McCallie concentrates his practice on real estate, nonprofits, conservation law issues and public/private development ventures.
In the past three decades he has represented unique public-private partnership ventures involving the RiverCity Company and others during the revitalization of downtown through projects such as the RiverSet Apartments, Majestic 12 Theater, Tivoli renovation, CARTA’s downtown shuttle system and various mixed-use facilities. These major projects have transformed a blighted and forgotten riverfront into some of the most valuable property in the state and considerably raised the profile of the city. The strength and vitality of the refurbished downtown extends well beyond the city limits into the region as a whole.
McCallie served for many years as a Trustee of the Lyndhurst Foundation under Rick Montague, Jack Murrah, Bruz Clarka and its trustees. He has served on the boards of the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, Chattanooga Nature Center, McCallie School, and the Tonya Memorial Foundation. As a member on the Board of Directors of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), he has worked to minimize the effects of urban sprawl.
“I believe the greatest enemy of open space in the South is urban sprawl,” says McCallie. “Its causes are roads, sewers, uninformed property tax systems and the mistaken belief that growth in outlying areas is as good as growth in the city.” The SELC is a nonprofit that has been a force against increased fossil fuel emissions, mountaintop mining and stream pollution. And, it has devoted significant resources to enforce environmental laws at the regional level.
He believes that recent growth in the South is the envy of the nation, but says it creates sprawl and a number of unintended consequences such as decaying neighborhoods, weakened school systems and social segregation, while it increases the cost of city services.
“We’ve never figured out how to measure the true cost of sprawl,” he adds. However, he believes it is far more costly in the long run to develop suburban properties than it is to re-develop vacant city lots, building mixed-use properties, preserving vintage buildings and improving parks and common spaces within the city.
Last year McCallie won the Douglas P. Ferguson Award, established by The Trust for Public Land (TPL) in 1998, recognizing the increasingly important role volunteers and advisors play in achieving its mission. McCallie was recognized for his outstanding service and extraordinary commitment to conserving land for people across America. The award is named for the co-founder of the national land conservation organization based in San Francisco, with a Tennessee state office in Chattanooga. TPL’s director in Chattanooga is Rick Wood.
“The Trust for Public Land opened its office in Chattanooga 20 years ago and Allen McCallie was there. Whether he was serving as our outside legal counsel or as an advisory board member he has been a consistent advisor and counselor,” says Wood. “His love and commitment for Chattanooga is tremendous.”
According to McCallie, while the city’s success in reinventing its brand was not accidental, the circumstances that made it possible are worth noting. From the mid-1940s, Chattanooga was not the place new manufacturing companies wanted to build, in part because of the city’s labor union environment and due to its well known air pollution problem. By 1980 the city was teetering on the brink of collapse, with population in decline.
“But, Chattanooga had extraordinary environmental resources because it had not grown,” says McCallie. “And so many individuals and organizations have played a role in this, dating back for over a century.”
The Ring—A Century of Conservation The Chickamauga-Chattanooga Military Park—the nation’s first—was established in 1890, preserving 5,300 acres. Later, Adolph Ochs noted that the Lookout Mountain battlefield had not been included, so he bought and protected the flank of the mountain. The adjacent Reflection Riding Arboretum and Botanical Garden along Lookout Creek was saved by the Chambliss family and is joined with The Chattanooga Nature Center, with its own national accreditation. The emergence of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the late 1930s motivated the preservation of lakesides and stream banks.
The 24,686-acre Prentice-Cooper State Forest in Marion County was preserved in the mid-century through the work of Z. Cartter Patten. By the early 1990s, the Moccasin Bend Task Force was created by the city and county to study important riverfront land on the northwest side of the city. It recommended developing the aquarium and riverpark. The Bend was to become a new park. The 769-acre site is known as the Moccasin Bend National Archeological District, one of the country’s newest national parks and it will document 12,000 years of human habitation when it is completed.
In 1986, the Tennessee River Gorge Trust (TRGT) was incorporated through an initiative by The Nature Conservancy and many local residents led by Adele Hampton and her family. The TRGT works to protect 17,000 acres of land in the historic Tennessee River Gorge, from the tops of the ridges to the banks of the Tennessee River—from William’s Island to Hales Bar Dam—a distance of 27 river miles. McCallie has been an advisor from the start.
Executive Director Rick Huffines says, “Allen is incredibly easy to work with because he knows the issues, needs, and people involved in conservation projects throughout the region. His deep-rooted connection to this community and his incredible insight make him a remarkable asset for conservation in this region.”
Former TRGT Director Jim Brown adds, “Certainly, he’s been a friend to conservation, but he has worked on so many community issues behind the scenes.” Today, the TRGT is engaged in protecting forest habitat for people and for a variety of animals including endangered migratory birds. It maintains two campsites, providing permits to campers and currently has three major research projects in progress.
The North Chick Creek Conservancy (NCCC) was formed by Friends of the North Chickamauga Creek Greenway in 1993 and protects its namesake as it flows directly from a wilderness canyon, through dense Soddy and Hixson neighborhoods, into the Tennessee River at the Chickamauga Dam.
On the east side of town, a brownfield property formerly known as the Volunteer Army Ammunitions Plant became a great asset in attracting modern manufacturing when city, county and state governments invested in rehabilitating and preparing the property as the new Enterprise South Industrial Park where Volkswagen chose to build a modern, energy-efficient plant, with much attention paid to the property’s natural assets. The city and county set aside 2,800 acres to establish the Enterprise South Nature Park for public recreation, adding to the “green” infrastructure.
In East Brainerd, the Chattanooga chapter of the Chattanooga Audubon Society works to preserve the 130-acre sanctuary known as Audubon Acres within a densely populated suburb. In East Ridge, Camp Jordan and the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway provide open space for recreation and access to the creek bank.
On Lookout Mountain, Robert Davenport, Sr. set out to acquire and preserve Lula Lake, creating the Lula Lake Land Trust in 1989. His children have added thousands of acres of additional protected land, including the recently created Cloudland Connecter Trail System. Nearby, the Lookout Mountain Conservancy works to protect the land on the eastern flank through efforts to link the Guild Trail and National Park Trail system to the expanding Tennessee RiverPark.
These efforts are what McCallie likes to call Chattanooga’s “ring of green.” The infrastructure within the ring—projects like the Tennessee Aquarium, the Tennessee RiverPark, Miller Plaza, named for Miller Martin co-founder Burkett Miller, Maclellan Island (Chattanooga Audubon Society), Renaissance Park and the newly completed Stringer’s Ridge, a project of TPL—only further enhance all that Chattanooga has to offer, he says. And although he says he’s never been more than a team member to these projects, there may be no one that understands better what conservation really means in Chattanooga than McCallie.
“Our poor [economic] growth over the last 50 years actually made it possible to have conservation assets,” says McCallie. The challenge had been to clean up the town with the help of these organizations and re-evaluate and enhance those environmental assets. These conservation alliances have done this and continue to watch over the area, providing a protective ring of green around the city. He hopes his 17-year-old son, David, will be able to enjoy both economic security and open space in the years to come as a result of the efforts of so many people.
“McCallie does this work without thought of recognition, because he cares,” says Brown. “He’s a spark plug that keeps things moving.”