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