Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center, a nature preserve and landscape park, began as a vision in the 1920?s by John and Margaret Chambliss. In the late 1970s, a group of forward thinkers hatched an ambitious plan to bring Chattanooga citizens closer to nature. With the help of the Junior League of Chattanooga, the group raised more than $500,000. In September 1979, The Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center was born. Since then, the center has had more than half a million visitors to explore its 317 acres containing a certified level IV arboretum, Civil War and Cherokee history, botanical gardens, and native plants, as well as raising awareness with educational programs for adults at schoolchildren. Their efforts have helped to conserve the approximately 45 native animal species inhabiting the Wildlife Wanderland, These animal species include a bald eagle, sandhill cranes, and endangered red wolves.
State-of-the-art when it was built, the environmentally engineered main building has remained largely unchanged over the past 33 years. Features such as solar-heating systems, southern-facing windows, and 99% natural R-38 insulation continue to model sustainable-building practices to park visitors and squirrels looking to passively heat their nests.
The Chattanooga Zoo opened its doors in 1937 with an exhibit containing two rhesus monkeys. Pretty soon, it had expanded to include bobcats, lions, and gators, until eventually becoming the venerable non-profit institution it is today, supporting conservation efforts for rare and endangered species around the world.
In the zoo's forest area, chimps, wildcats, and tortoises roam their habitats to the sound of churning water beneath two waterfalls. Red pandas scurry around a Himalayan habitat, and spider monkeys spin gossamer webs in the jungle area. Kids can play with goats and sheep at the petting zoo, or take a few revolutions on the carousel. With a refurbished frame from 1927, it spins guests on the backs of hand-carved seats fashioned after endangered animals such as snow leopards and low lying gorillas.
Behind the scenes, the zoo's caretakers work to rehabilitate hundreds of animals each year so that they can return to the wild. They also lead conservation efforts for rare species?including snow leopards, fennec foxes, and cotton-top tamarins?and educate thousands of students annually with interactive events catered to school curricula.
Over the course of 50 to 55 minutes, the Missionary Ridge Local takes train-spotters on a 6-mile travel through time along Chattanooga's original rail lines. Once the classic, old-timey steam or diesel locomotive has chugged its way out of Grand Junction station, it will pass through the Missionary Ridge Tunnel, which predates both the Civil War and its disappointing sequels, the Civil War Reloaded and Civil War Revolutions. When they arrive at East Chattanooga Depot, locomotive looky-loos will also witness the two ways to turn around a train. One involves the more familiar turntable method, and the other uses a wye, resulting in a maneuver similar to a three-point car turn but that doesn't involve slamming into the trash cans in your alley and waking the neighbors. The Missionary Ridge Local is closed Sunday–Friday in January and February.
What is now the Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary was once the Walker family farm, where highly respected naturalist and Chattanooga Audubon Society founder Robert Sparks Walker was born in 1878. Walker formed the Chattanooga Audubon Society in 1944, with a vision of educating citizens on the importance of protecting the environment and respecting nature the way the area's Native Americans had for thousands of years.
Today, the society is the steward of three sanctuaries: Elise Chapin Sanctuary at Audubon Acres, Maclellan Sanctuary on Audubon Island, and David Gray Sanctuary on Audubon Mountain. Each offers a unique look into the history, wildlife, and natural splendor of the area as well as educational programs that help children and adults discover the area.
Launching into the Ocoee River, Sunburst Adventures' rafts of whitewater adventurers bump and glide over currents with gradients up to 50 feet per mile. An experienced guide mans the helm, offering instruction and zany anecdotes, as rafters navigate past bushes and trees and around three risky undercuts for a challenging, yet safe, excursion. Sunburst's carefully selected team of enthusiastic rafters has been taming the rapids of the Ocoee and sharing their love for the sport and the great outdoors since 1976. Groups of experienced and novice boaters quickly become familiar with a good soaking as they tackle roaring rapids such as Hell's Hole and Godzilla attempting to bend their boats in two as they jostle their way down the river's 10-mile stretch. For a more leisurely way to enjoy the natural splendor and warm waters of the river, aquatic types can tube the Lower Ocoee, which is known for expressing much calmer waters ever since it kicked its pot-of-coffee-a-day habit.
At first glance, Purdy's Petting Zoo looks like a traditional barnyard: ducks quack and waddle, lop-eared rabbits silently hop, and pygmy goats nibble stalks of grass. But in addition to these familiar creatures, the zoo is home to exotic animals such as kangaroos, peacocks, zebras, and African tortoises. After feeding and petting the animals, visitors can mine for gems or fish for blue channel catfish in an onsite pond. The zoo also hosts field trips and birthday parties with pony rides.