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Forests and Fauna

Ravaged by war, admired, plundered, and finally preserved by the people who lived in its shadow, Lookout Mountain today serves as an example of constant interaction between Man and Nature.

For centuries, Indians stood on the Point of the mountain and looked out over an almost unbroken expanse of forest. This began to change quickly following the steadily increasing arrival of white settlers in the early 1800's. By the time of the Civil War the Indians had long since been removed and much of the northern end of the mountain was being ravaged as trees were logged, cut for defensive positions, or burned for fuel. Photographs of these times reveal bleak, rocky slopes in many areas.

Today, following decades of allowing the land to regain its natural balance, vegetation has covered most of these scars. The forest once again matures slowly and inevitably, one species being replaced by another in the cycle of continual change known as plant succession. Yet even on this protected ground, the results of human influence are constantly felt as foreign species and diseases are introduced. For example, until the turn of the century, chestnut was one of the most common trees on the mountain. Today, nearly a century after the accidental introduction of the chestnut blight into the United States, new trees sprout from ghostly stumps only to succumb to the disease.

Dominating now in most areas are the oaks and hickories, along with poplar, maples, sweetgum, and scattered pine, forming a nearly continuous canopy which blankets the mountain. Below, in the understory, are species requiring less sunlight such as dogwood, sourwood, redbud and sassafras. The forest provides a refuge for literally hundreds of animals, from bobcats to snakes and salamanders. Deer are occasionally sighted even high on the slopes; buzzards and hawks soar along the updrafts of the bluffs. Herons pluck fish and frogs from Lookout Creek as turtles sun themselves on a hundred different logs.

Always, whether plant or animal, the tale is one of ruthless competition¬¬--for water, for food, for light. Yet even in this competitive system of "survival of the fittest," the well-being of any one plant or animal is almost inevitably linked to the survival of others. Tiny microbes speed decay, making room for new life. Trees and plants depend on birds and insects to pollinate flowers and spread seeds, even as they provide critical sources of food and cover for wildlife.

Humans, too, are part of this circle, and the quality of life that we and our children enjoy is undeniably linked to the continued preservation and appreciation of places like Lookout Mountain.