When we baby boomers think about retirement destinations, many of us have a specific lifestyle in mind. We envision certain geographic features, cultural opportunities, and/or outdoor activities that fit our present interests and dreams for the future. This post is about our investigation of a unique retirement lifestyle in an equestrian-oriented community.
I like boating. My wife is a horse lover. We both like open spaces in a natural environment and being near the water. We decided to investigate whether there was a place that would accommodate and support all of our retirement lifestyle desires. Was there a community that could bring together a critical mass of others with similar interests? We think we’ve found it at Long Branch Lakes near Spencer, Tennessee.
Discovering Long Branch Lakes
Our first contact with Long Branch Lakes (LBL) was through its excellent website. My wife was quite excited to discover the site and LBL because it is only 120 miles from where we live now. She contacted the LBL sales department. We received more information in the mail and were invited to attend a “Discovery Weekend” to learn more about the community.
I was skeptical about attending because so many communities promise a lot more than they deliver. I was afraid that I would see acres of undeveloped land and and “planned” amenities indicated on maps and signs. But the appeal of the community lakes and what appeared to be first class equestrian facilities was too much to resist. We had to check it out.
After several cancellations (our fault), we finally drove to LBL. I was equally excited about visiting Fall Creek Falls, one of Tennessee’s most beautiful state parks located on the Cumberland Plateau. LBL is nearby and arranges for many of its visitors to stay at the park lodge. I had never been to Fall Creek Falls so I figured I didn’t have much to lose even if the LBL part of the trip disappointed me.
Most of the trip to Long Branch Lakes from Nashville is by Interstate 40 which takes you to the Cumberland Plateau. The plateau is generally located between Cookeville and Crossville, Tennessee and is one of the most beautiful geographic areas in the mid-South. We learned during our visit to LBL how eager the developers are to exploit yet preserve that beauty. In particular, they are placing a conservation overlay on much of the equestrian property in the development. This will insure that the land remains in its natural, undeveloped state. That is a commendable and important decision to us.
The final segments of the drive to LBL take you through rural Tennessee. The nearest towns are Spencer and Pikeville, both small communities to be sure. Living in LBL will involve sacrificing the cultural and practical amenities of an urban area. For some prospective retirees, that would be a deal killer. Others (like us), are prepared for and accustomed to that. The benefits of a quiet lifestyle in a place of natural beauty can overcome the occasional drive to the store. Also, LBL has some projects in motion that will help. More about that later.
Long Branch Lakes Design
LBL is a planned community of 5,000 acres. At present, the developers have created 517 homesites in six different “neighborhoods” as generally shown on this color-coded site plan: The neighborhoods are intended to take advantage of different characteristics of the land: wooded, lakefront, creekside, and equestrian. It is way too early to get a true feel for how the different neighborhoods will look. Although 25% of the lots have been sold (since November 2008 – which is amazing if you think about our economy), only seven homes have been built with seven more under construction.
What pleased and surprised us is that almost everything you see on the site plan – the roads, docks, athletic fields, pavilions, etc. – are physically in place. This is not one of those early stage developments where the amenities and infrastructure are more wishful thinking than reality.
The lakes are small which is both good and bad. The bad is that if you are a serious powerboater, you are out of luck. Only human and battery-powered boats are allowed on the lakes. The good is that peace and tranquility on the water can prevail.
If you like to fish, the odds are that you will be happy. The larger lakes are now under a Bill Dance certification program which I understand is good for the fish and for the people who want to catch them! I am a fishing novice but I am eager to learn.
Many of the lake lots have already been sold, which is understandable. They are the most expensive, of course. They are also unique in that most are multi-acre parcels, so you will not have neighbors staring at each other with docks crammed in together. We decided against a lake lot because we already have a house on a lake in Kentucky and hope to be able to keep it through retirement.
There are many heavily wooded lots at LBL. We were pleasantly surprised to discover during our visit that a couple from Nashville whom we know well was in the process of building a beautiful home on one of those lots. They intend to retire to LBL full-time by the end of the year. We also met another couple from our community near Nashville. They had bought property but were not yet ready to build. There are no forced building deadlines for property owners.
You will notice in the site plan that there is no golf course. We were happy about that because of the expense of maintaining a course which would end up being the responsibility of the homeowners. But all is not lost for golfers. The Fall Creek Falls State Park golf course is only a 15 minute drive. Also, the developers mentioned that land adjacent to LBL may be developed into a golf course in the future, but separate from LBL ownership.
The roads and common areas inside have a distinct natural feel, with lots of rough timber and stone construction. It blends in well with the natural beauty of the area. There are even two covered bridges that have a similar architectural feel. Some of the 30 miles in riding trails run throughout portions of the residential areas.
Another nice design feature is that all of the utilities are underground. The developers are even running fiber-optic cable throughout the community which will come in handy as we all progress to viewing online media content. Goodbye cable and satellite!
Long Branch Lakes Recreational Amenities
In addition to the Equestrian Center which I will discuss separately, LBL has plenty of recreational infrastructure in place even though only a handful of property owners have moved in. These amenities include lakeside open-air pavilions adjacent to Camp Lake (50 acres of water) and Long Lake (80 acres), boat docks, and bathroom facilities.
The Camp Lake recreational area also has a stunning lakeside heated swimming pool fed by a natural stone waterfall. For the grandkids and visitors, there is also a children’s pool and changing facilities.
For the real athletes, the Camp Lake recreation area includes tennis courts, a basketball court, and softball and soccer fields.
An extra benefit of our Discovery Weekend at LBL was the presence and participation of Rick Klewein, one of the developers. He was quite accessible and more than willing to answer our questions.
Rick excitedly showed us his construction plans for a “General Store” that will be built inside LBL. This was an important factor to us. The General Store will have a restaurant but more important, a grocery. Without it, buying a gallon of milk or loaf of bread means leaving LBL on a significant expedition.
Rick also explained what LBL is and will be doing to control growth of nuisance plants on the lakes. This has been a problem at other communities we have visited. You have to stay on top of it.
Another structure on the drawing board is a fitness center. This will also be important to building and sustaining a population of full-time active adult residents.
Long Branch Lakes Equestrian Center
The plans are to fully implement the equestrian center in two phases. The first phase was complete when we visited and includes an 8-stall barn, storage barn, working pen, and fenced pastures. The second phase will include a 20-stall barn, indoor riding arena, a rider’s lounge, additional paddocks and pasture areas, and parking areas for horse trailers. The developers and managers want the equestrian facility to be fully capable of hosting different events for horse lovers inside and outside LBL.
Currently, the LBL Equestrian Center offers pasture boarding at reasonable prices and instruction in a variety of different riding disciplines. I am not an expert in anything equestrian but my wife (who is an expert) was impressed with the facilities and with Lamar and Vanessa, the equestrian managers. To me, the facility managers projected both professionalism and a relaxed, easy-going manner. They actually live on the property.
One of the highlights of our visit was the on-property trail ride, guided by Lamar and Vanessa. The trail and pasture areas were picturesque and serenely beautiful.
It’s unlikely that one would become bored riding at LBL. In addition to its own 30 miles of trails, LBL connects directly to the Bledsoe State Forest which has an additional 60 miles of riding trails. All of that is accessible without ever having to load a trailer!
The weather on our ride was particularly enjoyable. A nice benefit of life on the plateau is that it is cooler compared to middle Tennessee where we now live. That helps with outdoor living in the summer. Also, there was a refreshing breeze which we were told is a regular visitor to the area and which effectively keeps the flying insects away.
As a true greenhorn, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the riding at LBL. It persuaded me that I could easily adapt to horseback riding as another retirement activity.
It was after our ride that I decided that we needed to give LBL serious consideration as a place to buy property. Fortunately, our sales host Buddy Frazier made exploration of the property a pleasant experience. Buddy was a knowledgeable yet relaxed advocate for the LBL lifestyle. There was no high pressure “what can we do to sell you now” sales tactics too often found at other developments.
Condominium Living at Long Branch Lakes
When we first learned about LBL, the properties being offered were large, single family building lots. I later learned that LBL had decided to build a small condominium neighborhood called “Trout Hill.” This intrigued me. Although we have never lived in a condo, the idea of a low maintenance retirement lifestyle appealed to me.
The Trout Hill site plan was unique because it comprised only eight low-rise buildings arranged in a natural setting adjacent to a small lake. One of the floor plans was just what we needed: Two bedrooms and a solarium in a 1500 sq. ft. single-level, open design, a large porch overlooking the water, and a garage with a storage area. I was determined to investigate Trout Hill.
We had to use our imagination when inspecting the Trout Hill site because the building pads had not even been cleared. But after also considering one of the new “bunkhouse” building lots in the equestrian village, we decided that the condo concept worked best for us.
We were the first to place a deposit on a Trout Hill unit. Now we are waiting for construction to start. We are eager to explore a condo retirement lifestyle in an equestrian community.
Final Thoughts on Long Branch Lakes
LBL is unique in several respects. First, it provides a full course of equestrian living with a large helping of lakes, streams, and natural beauty. Second, it is large enough to create an environment where active adults and retirees can build a true community together. Third, it gives a buyer a selection of properties to consider that are diverse in size, geography, and price.
The risks you would take in buying and living in LBL must also be considered. First, with only 7 homes built, 7 more under construction, and an uncertain economy, it could take several years at least before a critical mass of full-time residents is achieved. That’s not a big concern for us because we have time for things to evolve. The second risk is that you might not enjoy the relative isolation. It is a probably a 40 minute drive to a major medical facility, library or airport, with smaller facilities in Pikeville and Sparta. I think we can handle that, as long as we remain healthy.
If you are a trail-rider or nature lover, isolation goes with the territory and is part of the lifestyle you crave. After all, at Long Branch Lakes, the phrase “riding into the sunset” takes on a literal meaning. I think it will be a good ride.
Photo credits: Some of the photos in this article were taken by us during our visit. Others were supplied by Long Branch Lakes at my request. For the record, Long Branch Lakes did not ask me to write this article or provide any incentive for doing it.