“If you go out and look around, really look carefully, you'll find that the Chattanooga area is home to a great diversity of native plant species,” said John Evans, director of horticulture here at Reflection Riding. Due to the climate history and the geography of the area, this unique city contains habitat types spanning from upland forests to grasslands, wetlands to mountain coves. “This diversity not only gives us plenty to explore, but also plenty to choose from when selecting native plants for our gardens and landscapes,” Evans said.

The 317 acres of Reflection Riding contains its own diverse array of plants, all under the care of Evans. As manager of the native plant nursery, Evans is responsible for producing enough native plants to make a difference on the property as the horticulture team restores habitats and maintains established gardens.

“Growing native plants from seeds is a complex process that involves planning several seasons in advance,” Evans said. “It requires a considerable amount of labor too, and we are fortunate to have a number of dedicated volunteers excited to participate in the effort.”
 
Native species in Chattanooga are facing a number of threats, especially from invasive exotic plants. Introduced either unintentionally as passengers in international trade or deliberately for a variety of reasons, most exotic species do not become invasive. But some of these species begin to have negative impacts on the environment, and outcompete native species (Are you interested in helping Reflection Riding manage invasive exotic species? Check our Eventbrite for more information about privet pulling sessions, to which we dedicate each Tuesday evening).

The largest threat to Chattanooga’s native species though, is what native species all over the world are facing now: habitat loss. 

“The single greatest threat to biodiversity is habitat loss. As human population grows at an exponential rate, we have no choice but to occupy more space, and we seem to do it in the least efficient ways possible…” Evans said. “Sure, after we bulldoze the fields and forests, put in the roads, and build the houses, we often put a lot into landscaping so we can surround ourselves with what we perceive as a natural-feeling environment. But a monoculture lawn is not a meadow, and planting the same few exotic ornamental tree species throughout the neighborhood does not re-create a forest. The plant diversity that was once there is now gone.”

One way that Evans recommends being conscious of Chattanooga’s native species and supportive of biodiversity is by using natives in the home landscape. This not only supports plant diversity, but also native wildlife like insect pollinators, birds, and small mammals. Evans’ work supports this as well, by producing the native species for the bi-annual Reflection Riding plant sale that funds the nursery’s operation.

“We see it as our role to provide as many native plant species as possible to the local community. Currently we grow about 200 native plant species, and we are pushing the number further all the time,” Evans said. “Twice a year, in the spring and in the fall, we have a major native plant sale where the public can come and select from our collection. These native plant sales have been a Chattanooga tradition for over 30 years and serve as gathering points for native plant enthusiasts throughout the region.”

Reflection Riding is currently looking to fill a staff horticulturist position. Ideally this is a person with horticultural skills and a familiarity with native plants, who is enthusiastic about working in outdoor conditions. The job will include such tasks as seed collection and processing, propagation, care of plants in the nursery, general gardening activities, invasive plant management, habitat restoration and management, and housekeeping around the nursery. If you are interested in being a part of the Reflection Riding team, send a personal statement and resume to [email protected].

About the Author

Bess Turner graduated from Tulane University in 2018 with a BA in English, Anthropology, and Environmental Studies, where she also worked for the Tulane Hullabaloo and the Undergraduate Student Government Sustainability Committee. When she's not writing for Reflection Riding you can find her on the mat, hiking, reading, and searching for the best veggie burger in Chattanooga. 

You can follow Bess on Instagram @bess_turner

Posted by Bess Turner

Days spent outside drawing and playing, making art and watching birds, sitting around a fire telling stories and singing songs -- these may seem like exclusively summer activities for many kids, or even worse, a thing of the past. Fortunately for the children who attend Wauhatchie School, it is neither. The program, which follows the Forest Kindergarten ethos, will be opening a second site at Reflection Riding next semester, as well as expanding the age range.


Jean Lomino, former Education Director and longtime Executive Director for the Chattanooga Nature Center and Reflection Riding, established the program in 2015 with Diana Meadows, director of the Learning Center at Lookout Lake.


“We started on her family property, and that’s just about four miles down the road from [Reflection Riding],” Lomino said. “My grandson was in her care when we started talking about it, and so he was actually in my very first forest kindergarten class in 2015.”


The inaugural class of 2015 spent almost every morning outdoors, exploring their surroundings and learning to ask questions rather than depend on directions from a teacher. Forest school relies on child-led inquiry and place-based education as a curriculum, meaning that kids get to learn about what interests them as well as foster a love of learning that could be squelched in a more structured environment.


“They go and they do what they want to do, and basically they end up making their own little teams,” Lomino said. “They all have their own little projects or games that they’re involved in, and the teachers are there just to watch over them basically -- protect them, supervise them.”


Art is also heavily integrated into the curriculum, whether it be journaling, drawing, or with art supplies brought out by teachers. Lomino noted that oftentimes children don’t even need extra supplies, and will create with what they find in the woods.


The morning of forest kindergarten is spent completely outside, and children who stay for the whole day of the kindergarten program gain the skills needed for first grade preparedness as well, which may involve indoor activities in the onsite classroom. At the Reflection Riding campus children of all ages will be learning more direct skills. While focusing on a different concept each week, they will also participate in long-term projects like tracking migration patterns over the course of the school year. They will learn bushcraft skills, how to work with tools like knives and axes, survival skills, and more.

“It’s that hands on experience that makes the difference,” said Megan Chaney, assistant director of Wauhatchie School. “So when you’re learning those academic subjects like reading and writing and arithmetic you’re applying; you’re doing those hands on experiences that make the connections better. They help push it into your long term memory.”

Lomino has seen first-hand how this kind of learning environment can be beneficial to children; her grandson will be returning for his fourth year of forest kindergarten this school year.

“My middle grandson, who will be turning six next month, he was pretty much my inspiration for forest kindergarten… He’s developed into a little naturalist, I can tell you that for sure. He is very comfortable outside, he knows the names of so many creatures and trees and plants.”

Equal to their objective of teaching children outside is Wauhatchie School’s teacher training program. Since opening their doors in 2015 Lomino has trained 70 teachers from all over the country and the world. She recently completed research with educators in Guangzhou, China, with a written study forthcoming. Whether kindergarten age or retiree age, though, there are plenty of lessons that can be gleaned from the Forest School ethos: to spend as much time in the outdoors as possible, to retain a childlike love of learning, and to never stop exploring.

For more information about the program click here for Forest School principles and moments and here for the Wauhatchie School and a video! 

Spots are still open for this fall. To fill out an application for your child to attend Forest Kindergarten or Forest School, visit the Wauhatchie School website.


About The Author

Bess Turner graduated from Tulane University in 2018 with a BA in English, Anthropology, and Environmental Studies, where she also worked for the Tulane Hullabaloo and the Undergraduate Student Government Sustainability Committee. When she's not writing for Reflection Riding you can find her on the mat, hiking, reading, and searching for the best veggie burger in Chattanooga. You can follow Bess on Instagram @bess_turner

Posted by Bess Turner  | Category: Education

Have you met Crossley?

June 28th, 2018

“Mom’s got a clutch of babies to care for, and he’s got issues,” Reflection Riding Director of Wildlife Tish Gailmard said of the owl nibbling on her finger. “She doesn’t have time to deal with that — out you go. That’s nature. Survival of the fittest.”
With his crossed beak and searching eyes, Crossley is far from your average barred owl. After being discovered in the woods by an ATV rider who brought him to a local wildlife rehabilitator, the little owl came to join the Reflection Riding collection of animals with permanent injuries. In addition to his crossed beak, Crossley has glaucoma in both of his eyes, and is only able to react to light in his right eye and can make out shapes and forms in his left. He may simply seem inquisitive, but Crossley is constantly tilting and moving his head to focus that left eye. He is also mostly hand-fed, although some of his diet he eats on his own. 

Photo by Mark McKnight

Barred owls and their distinctive call are a common presence in the southeast, and one that has been around for a long time. Barred owls very rarely migrate even short distances, and fossils from the Pleistocene era dated at least 11,000 years old have been discovered in Tennessee. The females are much larger than the males, as with most predatory birds, and so it is actually not yet possible to tell Crossley’s sex. Want to see one for yourself? Although Crossley is not out for the public to see, Reflection Riding does have a barred owl on exhibit.

While the on-exhibit animals are the ones you can see every day at the native animal exhibit, Reflection Riding has a plethora of animals behind-the-scenes. And although Crossley is an off-exhibit animal, that doesn’t mean you’ll never see him around! Once he matures he will start training to join the other off-exhibit animals in educational programs, teaching in the classroom and at Reflection Riding. 

“If people come in and they have a particular interest in an animal that’s not on exhibit, as long as a wildlife staff person is here, we’ll either bring that animal to the visitor or potentially bring the visitor to the animal,” Gailmard said. “It depends on the animal. Because we want people to come and enjoy and have a really great experience and if they’re looking for a particular animal we want them to be able to see that animal.” 

  

Photos by Bess Turner

While Crossley’s defects most likely occurred in the egg, many of the animals at Reflection Riding are there due to a permanent injury suffered due to human presence in nature. For predatory birds especially, it is important to remember the “apple core theory.” Although throwing an apple core (or any other fruit or food item) out the car window may seem fine as it will biodegrade, it can cause a chain of events harmful to animals. The fruit attracts rodents, the staple of an owl’s diet, and those rodents will bring the owl down to the side of the road and in danger of being hit by a car. Take Gailmard’s word for it: “Save it all and either compost it or get it in the garbage in a proper place. I think it’s really important for people to understand that what we do as humans affects wildlife. And you have to be mindful of that.”

Want to see more of Crossley and other furry friends? Check us out on Instagram! @crossleythebarred @redfoxtoddy


About the Author

Bess Turner graduated from Tulane University in 2018 with a BA in English, Anthropology, and Environmental Studies, where she also worked for the Tulane Hullabaloo and the Undergraduate Student Government Sustainability Committee. When she's not writing for Reflection Riding you can find her on the mat, hiking, reading, and searching for the best veggie burger in Chattanooga. 

You can follow Bess on Instagram @bess_turner

Posted by Bess Turner  | Category: Wildlife

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