Loch Low-Minn Dive Resort

It's in Tennessee, Not Scotland

By Linda Lee Walden

From the name of this inland dive destination, you might surmise that Dive Training is branching out to cover Europe. As enticing as that prospect may be, in this case Loch Low-Minn is right here in the state of Tennessee.

The heart of the dive resort is a 10-acre lake on 60 wooded acres in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. The land was leased from a farmer by McMinn County to quarry limestone for use in road construction. When it was closed in the '70s the county returned the land to the owner, who decided to sell it at auction in 1996.

Enter the Lows, Rick and Stacy. Entrepreneurs as well as avid sport divers, they had started several successful businesses. Although they bought the former quarry thinking that Stacy's parents would enjoy running it as a local dive site, that didn't work out. When her parents returned to Florida a year later, Rick and Stacy decided to move onto the property and develop it themselves. Forty more acres were later added to the surrounding resort property.

The origin of the name Loch Low-Minn is perhaps now a little clearer. "Loch" is the Gaelic (Scottish) word for lake. "Low" is the last name of the owners and "Minn" stands for McMinn County, Tennessee.

While Rick Low works full time weekdays at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and weekends at the resort, Stacy manages the dive business, and also finds time to pursue an MBA degree and serve as president of the McMinn County Humane Society.

In seven years the high-energy Lows have transformed the huge, water-filled hole in the hill into a scuba destination that attracts divers from a radius of more than 200 miles (320 km). According to the owners, more than 20 dive centers, several scuba clubs and scores of individual recreational divers travel regularly to Loch Low-Minn from northern Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Alabama, as well as from Tennessee.

At the Resort

Loch Low-Minn Dive Resort is a few miles off Interstate 75 between Chattanooga and Knoxville. Turning into the long, winding entrance drive, signs direct guests to stop at the office before proceeding to the quarry entry area.

At the office you're greeted by the Lows and their three-legged family dog. Guests are invited to sample the dishes of candy while completing the sign-in process and watching a short video that shows underwater footage of the lake and explains resort procedures.

The former quarry access road has been developed into a staging area sloping to a convenient walk-in entry area. Along the edges of the gravel road are 16 wooden picnic tables, which are assigned to dive groups when they check in, plus a porta-pottie. Divers may unload their gear at the table before parking at the top of the hill.

A wooden dock adjacent to the walk-in entry allows direct access to water 45 feet (14 m) deep. The sides of the dock are flanked with benches, simulating a boat deck. A hang bar has been installed under the dock at a depth of 15 feet (5 m) to provide an even more realistic training experience.

Underwater Features

The Lows have installed a number of training aids. Two wooden platforms are an easy swim from the entry points, suspended at a depth of 25 feet (8 m). Each platform is nearly 10 feet by 20 feet (3 m by 6 m), providing plenty of room for classes. Nearby is a swim-through culvert 3 feet (1 m) in diameter and 16 feet (5 m) long.

Working from predetermined coordinates, divers can navigate a five-legged course leading from feature to feature. A 100-foot (33-m) line has been installed underwater to measure the kick cycles of individual divers. A buoyancy course consisting of eight geometric shapes floats about 3 feet (1 m) above the 30-foot (9-m) bottom.

Underwater attractions include several small boats, and statues of David, a deer, sea horses, a donkey and a 5-foot alligator. One of the games instructors play with their students is to descend and kiss the frog (statue) that waits patiently at 20 feet (6 m). There is a Loch Ness-type monster in the lake as well. He eyes divers from his perch along one of the quarry walls.

On the opposite side of the lake is the "Boulder Hole," formed by rocks that tumbled from the quarry wall. "The Trench" is the deepest spot in the lake at 74 feet (22 m). If divers follow the surface buoy down into the trench they discover another artifact common in quarries, a porcelain toilet.

Except for the walk-in entry area, which is gravel, the bottom is a mixture of silt and glasslike algae. Fish life includes catfish, bluegill and bass.

One significant reason that instructors bring their students to Loch Low-Minn is the visibility. Three springs filter through the solid limestone before seeping into the lake, and the topography of the land and presence of surrounding vegetation minimize runoff. All this adds up to underwater visibility that routinely reaches 40 feet (12 m). In the winter months it can rise to more than 60 feet (18 m).

Summers in southeastern Tennessee can be hot and humid, so water temperatures easily reach the mid-70s Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius), with a 10-degree thermocline as deep as 35 feet (11 m). The region rarely gets snow in winter, but the air temperature does dip below freezing.

Topside Amenities

Most of the facilities are at the top of the quarry road adjacent to the parking area. A bathhouse contains men's and women's changing rooms, hot showers, a rinse sink and toilets.

Another factor that reportedly attracts classes, as well as recreational divers, is the hospitality of the hosts. On weekends Rick Low serves as chief chef for the "Dive & Gobble" open-air grill, which serves burgers or chicken with salad and chips for $5. Overlooking the quarry is an aboveground pool surrounded by a wooden deck and a spa for use by nondiving guests.

Air fills are available for $5 per tank. The Lows pick up empty cylinders right from your table and ferry them to and from the filling station behind the office. They can fill about 100 tanks per day, three at a time.

A number of events take place at Loch Low-Minn each year. In October there is underwater pumpkin carving and every month during the season a dive center sponsors a treasure hunt. Group campouts are common and participants are welcomed to pitch their tents anywhere. In addition, there are two primitive cabins that sleep four to six people.

One decision the Lows made to set Loch Low-Minn apart was to avoid competing with area dive centers. For the convenience of guests, however, cylinder rentals are offered, as is basic scuba gear and save-a-dive-type accessories.

For the 2005 season the Lows plan to add a nitrox filling station and new rental gear.

Particulars

Although the Loch Low-Minn Dive Resort is tucked away among farms and wooded tracts, emergency services are less than 10 miles (16 km) away at Woods Memorial Hospital in Etowah, Tennessee, including a helicopter ambulance.

Loch Low-Minn is open weekends from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. between early May and October. No reservations are needed, however, they are recommended for groups. Since the Lows live on the property, with reservations, the resort can be opened at any time year-round.

Admission for divers is $15; for nondivers, $10. Children under 12 are not admitted unless they are taking a scuba class.

For Stacy and Rick Low, Loch Low-Minn Dive Resort is a labor of love, a good balance between maintaining their personal lives and a business they enjoy. Stacy's greatest pleasure is "seeing the young people learning to dive and the certified divers enjoying it."

For more information, call (423) 746-0798 or visit www.lochlow-minn.com.