Chattanoogan: Mike Pollock - “This Land Is Your Land”

Thursday, May 2, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

Born in Los Angeles, Mike Pollock spent his toddler years by the ocean. “I’ve got that in my blood,” he says. It may have been observing the restless waves of the ocean that formed Mike’s personality along with growing up with his father’s business moving the family to New York and then through another job opportunity coming to Chattanooga where Mike attended Baylor School.

During his sophomore year, Mike went out with four of his friends and headed for Lula Lake.  Taking two vehicles, one pair headed from a back road and the other pair went on a constructed road.

“I was with my buddy Keith in his Bronco. As we approached the entrance into Lula Lake, these two big fellas who looked like they were with a work crew had asked for a ride down to the lake. We gave them a ride and my buddies and I went swimming and had a great time,” Mike said.

He noticed the roughnecks scrimmaging around in the front seat of the car as he and Keith approached the Bronco. The bigger of the two men said to Keith, “Let me drive!” but Keith told him he didn’t think his father would like that. The man changed his demeanor and yelled profanities telling the two boys to get in the car.

Mike was in the backseat with one of the men while his friend Keith was upfront with the man who attempted to carjack the Bronco. When knives were brought out, the boys knew they were in serious trouble and could only hope to escape.

“We were at knifepoint when he had pulled over to a place called ‘Insurance Bluff’ where people used to push cars off so you couldn’t find them. The big fella up front told us to get out and said, ‘I want you little preppies to hang ten’,’’ Mike relays. “And he made us wrap our toes around the bluff line of over 130 foot of open space.”

The larger man put his head between the two boys’ heads and had a hand on each of their shoulders saying, “I could throw you little preppies off of this bluff right now and nobody would know about you until your bodies started to stink!”

Mike pleaded with the man not to do that. He knew he could die and was ready to fight if needed but he felt that maybe they were just scaring him and his friend and may let them go.

“All of a sudden he jerked us back, and put us in the truck. We started heading back to the front of the mountain,” Mike says.

Trying to coax the men into letting them go, Mike told them he lived nearby, but the man told him it was too close to the police station.

“We got further down toward Rock City and the tall guy in the front grinned telling me to get out and they made me get on the bumper while still moving and I jumped off. I rolled a few times and when I stopped I was just stunned. I stopped the very next car and told them what happened and they took me to the police station,” Mike says.

The brutes dropped his friend Keith off at Rapper’s Motorcycle Gang Headquarters in St. Elmo, took his wallet and sent him on home. This was Mike’s first experience at Lula Lake but he wouldn’t let it be his last.

Mike’s restlessness and sense of adventure may have been looked upon as rebellion in his youth, but it helped form his passion for his career today. 

After graduating from Baylor, Mike began working for the Happy Baker Company on Georgia Avenue. His boss was fairly casual with him, allowing him to come and go each time he had adventure building up in his veins.

“I would build up a bank of cash and then I would disappear for months at a time. I would travel to Costa Rica, or anywhere I could. I went to Europe for a couple of months at a time - sometimes with friends and sometimes by myself. At one time, I told everybody that I was moving to the Virgin Islands and moved to an island called St. Johns. I got off the boat and had no idea where I would sleep or what the landscape looked like or anything,” Mike says.

He had camped at a state park for about a month, thinking he would get a job and be able to work. “It was a fun time but I would always come back and my boss at Happy Baker would give me a job until I filled up my bank and took off again,” Mike grins. “I went out West to see friends and did a lot of climbing and mountain biking. Chattanooga is a great place to venture from, but it is always home.”

Mike’s daring personality during his formative years came full circle as he matured and headed toward his career goals.

During college, Mike attended a few schools before settling at UTC majoring in psychology.

“At the time, psychology was geared towards abnormal behavior, counseling and therapy type work. It just dawned on me that I didn’t want to work with unhealthy people - I wanted to make healthy people healthier. That concept really stuck in my brain and I wanted to find a way to blend business and psychology. I wanted to enter into the industrial psychology program at UTC, but they recognized that I was not a mathematician or a statistician – they suggested I focus on organizational behavior,” Mike says.

He found a program at John Hopkins University in Baltimore and planned to become an organizational development consultant. Mike wanted to mix it with the outdoors, so he entered the National Outdoor Leadership School and Project Adventure in Atlanta. Mike came out of the programs with experience in leading groups such as a summer with Wilderness Adventures in Wyoming – a four month experiential retreat. He took groups climbing the Grand Tetons, and a two-week back-packing trip in Wind River Range.

“I brought a lot of my education and the self-study of the outdoors, and came back to Chattanooga to be hired by the guys at Rock Creek Outfitters. I worked with Marvin Webb and Dawson Wheeler for a short period of time with their company called the Adventure Guild. Within a couple of years, they sold the company to me and my two business partners.  We moved into the Business Development Center on Cherokee Boulevard,” Mike says. 

“We had a good run of about 10 to 12 years, leading rock-climbing trips, ropes courses, and team-building activities for camps, schools, churches and corporations. This was also my gateway of working with a company in Atlanta called Executive Expeditions and later Avastone. We worked with companies like Glasgow Pharmaceuticals, Eli Lilly, Alcoa, Cox Communications, Bell South, AT&T. We also ran our own corporate retreats here in Chattanooga. I brought groups from Coca-Cola and a group from Delta Airlines - they came to Chattanooga and we brought them a great outdoor team-building experience,” Mike insists.

Though he had quite a scare as a youngster when he first went to Lula Lake, it didn’t hold Mike back from returning. He liked to fish and to swim there and became friends with the Davenport family whose father started the Lula Lake Land Trust.

“He actually bought the property a number of years before his death and locked up Lula Lake really tightly - about 750 acres of land that he purchased independently,” Mike recalls. “On his death bed, he said that he wanted this place to be left undisturbed and put it in a land trust with his four children being trustees. Once they got their hands around what it meant to be entrusted with a conservation organization, they reached out and began to develop an advisory board.”

Mike served on the unofficial board about three years and then became a member of the board of the Chattanooga Nature Center, the Lookout Mountain Conservancy, and then back with the official Lula Lake board and became the project manager for the Cloudland Canyon Connector Trail.

Lula Lake Land Trust is the facilitator of the trail system and partners with Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Lyndhurst Foundation. Mike works as a hub between the three organizations as well as volunteers with organizations such as SORBA (Southern Off-Road Bike Association), the Friends at Cloudland Canyon State Park, and the Lyndhurst Foundation.

“Since 2009 we opened up 27 miles of recreational trails between Lula Lake and Cloudland Canyon and have approximately14 more miles to open which should be ready by the end of this year,” Mike says.

“We are really eager to complete this project and look for the available connectivity between the Riverwalk in Chattanooga to Chickamauga National Military Park to Covenant College and eventually to Lula Lake. What you will see in the next few years is a continuous trail segment that will expand from Cloudland Canyon all the way across the top of Lookout Mountain, around the flanks of Chattanooga continuing along the Riverwalk, and connecting the North Chickamauga Creek Pocket Wilderness. It will go up onto the Cumberland Plateau and connect with the Cumberland trail system and eventually the Great Eastern Trail. Various little pieces of the puzzle are slowly being connected,” Mike say.

Hitting the trails in constant motion, Mike finally slowed down enough when he turned 40 to marry Georgianna. Georgianna is a musician who used to be part of a folk band called ‘Letty and Georgia’. The two girls had a band and played in clubs around Chattanooga before Mike met her. She is an avid equestrian and also had deep roots in Wyoming. Mike had led a number of student trips there, so they hit it off immediately. The couple doesn’t have children except for their little dog they named Mick Jagger who Mike claims is quite the rock star. “Everybody around town knows Mick Jagger,” Mike laughs.

President of Red Point Management, a human resource development consultancy, Mike essentially helps leaders to understand how to create the most enjoyable sustainable culture within their organization.

“Employees need to feel at home in their work that they have a place that really resonates and builds off of their personal skills and talents and have the organization rely on that,” Mike advises.

Mike has put in a heavy work load of volunteer time constructing trails and maintaining them. He still has a thirst for the great outdoors and is an avid cyclist, riding mountain bikes and road bikes. He enjoys trail runs, rock climbing, and back-packing.

“I really want to play a role in the collective weave of the Chattanooga  outdoors community to help Chattanooga establish a true one-of-a-kind outdoor destination for  young travelers and old travelers - like me, who are looking for that ‘place to land’,” Mike says. “I’d like to see people enjoy the outdoors so much that it is the foremost reason for them stopping and landing here.”

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