"The Enchantment of Reflection Riding" by G. Gale Johnson originally appeared in Tennessee Conservationist magazine. While the exact date is unknown, the reference to Lynn Woodworth as board president places this around 1989. If you have any more information or other interesting historical tidbits, please share them with us! You can email [email protected] or drop by with any old articles or artifacts. We'd be happy to scan them and give them back to you.

Editor's notes are indicated by brackets and italics. 

In symbiosis with the Chattanooga Nature Center, the “Riding” is home to a variety of plants, wildlife and educational opportunities.

As you drive slowly down the lane, the crunch of gravel scatters brilliant butterflies upon unseen paths in the wind. Birdsong falls softly upon your ears. The atmosphere is contagious; draw a deep breath, and peace fills your spirit as the fragrance of woods and flowers fills your head.

These simple pleasures can be found tucked into a pleasant nook at the foot of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. Named after a British type of park, Reflection Riding is devoted to creating an atmosphere of contemplation and tranquility amid the natural environment of the park. The term “riding” comes from British usage, meaning “a path of pleasure.”

Reflection Riding has over 12 miles of paths connecting with trails in the 2,000 acre Chattanooga Chickamauga National Military Park. The Riding is bordered on three sides by the military park and on the fourth by Seaboard Systems Railroad property and Lookout Creek.

Photo: Matt Guenther

The late John and Margaret Chambliss were the founders of the riding. Mr. Chambliss was a lawyer who loved horseback riding. “They created these first trails. Some of them were Indian trails, some of them were just old trails, and they laid them all on horseback,” said Lynn Woodworth, the board president of Reflection Riding. In 1957 the Chambliss’ organized Reflection Riding, and in 1959 they deeded 300 acres of land to the Riding. Later they realized that the inability of older and handicapped people to walk or ride horseback prevented them from enjoying the trails, so they widened the paths for cars.

Three historic paths cross the Riding. The first is known as “The Great Indian Warpath.’’ In 1540 Hernando DeSoto used this trail and crossed the land in his search for gold. The other two paths are “The St. Augustine and Cisca Trail’’ and “The Georgia,” or “Old Federal Road.”

Historic signs along the paths mark different stages in the Civil War’s Battle of Lookout Mountain. This battle began at what is now Reflection Riding as reinforcements for the Union Army struggled to join their troops besieged in Chattanooga.  Thirty thousand men crossed a pontoon bridge before it was destroyed by floodwaters. The other 10,000 had to fight their way across Lookout Mountain to gain access to Chattanooga.

Along the paths they had created, the Chambliss’ planted wildflowers. Today, labels mark thousands of the trees, shrubs and flowers, which can be seen from the cars that pass along the paths. There is a Plant Identification Guide that lists numbers matching the labels. The guide shows a sketch of the plant along with its common and scientific name, followed by a short description.

The plant guide is available at the Chattanooga Nature Center, the gateway to Reflection Riding. The Nature Center opened in 1979 and thrives today with long list of members and contributors. It features a variety of educational exhibits and demonstration projects, including a wetlands sewage treatment project developed jointly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority (see information accompanying this article.

Despite the usual misconception, the Nature Center and Reflection Riding are two independent organizations. However, they work closely together toward the common goal of offering the public a natural retreat from the stresses of their daily lives and trying to educate the public about the wonders of nature. [We actually are a single organization today!]

In a written agreement, Reflection Riding consented to maintain the land and to allow the Nature Center the use of the land. “We became sort of the outdoor classroom and living laboratory for the Nature Center,” Mrs. Woodworth said. The Nature Center’s role is interpretation of the site for the public through its educational programs.

Each year over 14,000 schoolchildren go to Reflection Riding for field classes, where they can see firsthand what they have been studying in their classrooms. The Nature Center’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Lab takes in endangered and threatened animals that either have been raised as pets or have been injured. The lab strives to teach these animals to return to the wild, although this is not always possible. Creatures who can no longer survive on their own  like the beautiful barred owl that is blind now after being hit by a motorist  become permanent residents. These animals become part of the educational experience and are used to teach the schoolchildren to care for and respect nature. “If we could just generate love and respect for wildlife and every living thing, we could make a difference,” said Jim Newman, wildlife rehabilitator and head of the wildlife Rehabilitation Lab. [While we no longer rehabilitate animals on-site, we do serve as a refuge for unreleasable wildlife. Our "Animal Ambassadors" still serve a central role in our educational programming.]

The Nature Center also offers workshops and out-of-state field trips for teachers. Randy Brown, director of the Nature Center said, “Basically, the program is designed to get teachers familiar with and excited about the things they teach about in class.” Some of these trips include Mount St. Helens, the Yellowstone area and the Amazon.

The grounds of Reflection Riding are a haven to many species of birds. “Hummingbirds on their migrations live here,” said Brown. Bird walks are held frequently and bird nests and feed are sold at the Nature Center. In the fall the birdwatching season is topped off by a visit of the “eagle lady,” Doris Mager, who presents a special program involving live eagles and hawks. The Nature Center also offers workshops and programs to the public. Some of these workshops include recycling, household chemicals, composting, seed collecting and native plants.

In September the Nature Center conducts its popular native plant sale. “We have chosen a selection of plants that we rate as having outstanding landscape merit,” said Philip Page, executive director of Reflection Riding. Mrs. Woodworth added that the park hopes to encourage people to use more native plants in their landscaping and gardens. This corresponds with the Riding’s pledge “. . . to assist in spreading the wildflowers and native shrubs (of the park) by propagating them and letting them spread.’’ With this in mind, the officials of the park hope eventually to construct a greenhouse. [The greenhouse, of course, has been completed and in fact will be expanded in 2018. It serves as the site for propagation of the native plants used on the property and sold in our still-popular sales.]

One of the most popular attractions is the Wetlands Walkway. This is a boardwalk meandering out into the wetlands, ending with an overlook of Lookout Creek, and allowing visitors to see all types of plants and animals in their native habitat. The design of the walkway won first place in the country in the National Garden Club of America Founder’s Fund Award competition, which provided the Nature Center with the initial $10,000 to build the walkway.

Lookout Creek itself can be a bit deceptive, thanks to a TVA operation: Because of the action of Hales Bar Dam to the north and Chickamauga Dam to the south, sometimes the creek reverses the direction of its natural flow.

Along the boardwalk are cages containing some of the animals from the Rehab Lab. The cages are overgrown with plants, and Brown said that when people complain that they can’t see the animals, his reply is, “Thank you. We’re not a zoo. What we do here – what little bit of rehab we’re able to do – we try to do for the animals.” [We're clearly still not a zoo, but we have been on a mission to eradicate invasive exotic plants, an effort that has required hundreds of hours of both paid and volunteer time. Learn more about our work from our invasive plant specialist, Melanie Flood.]

Reflection Riding is governed by 21 board members and has several permanent staff members. “In 1982 the board sensed that in order to be conserved and to manage the development of the land, we needed more professional advice,” said Mrs. Woodworth. As a result, the board hired a professional landscape architect to develop a plan for the preservation and development of Reflection Riding. In 1987, Page was hired as the executive director of Reflection Riding. Page has an extensive background in horticulture, including work at Monticello, the home of President Thomas Jefferson, and including direction of the horticultural restoration of historic Old Salem in North Carolina.

As outlined in the plan, one of the newer plantings in Reflection Riding is the addition of a fragrance garden around the screened pavilion. The garden includes shrubs and plants with fragrant foliage and/or flowers. The beds curve gracefully to follow the contours of the land around the pavilion. Some of the plants include sweet shrub, common lilac, rugosa rose, honeysuckle, jasmine and lavender.  Many weddings are held here among the scented breezes.

The board also has plans to develop a new paths system “that will go through all the various habitats and interesting parts of the Riding,” said Mrs. Woodworth. In a station at the beginning of the path would be a pamphlet and map of the trail. To introduce the new paths and encourage people to explore for themselves at different seasons of the year, guided walks may be offered.

This year in an experiment, Reflection Riding delayed mowing their meadows. “We are letting some of our meadows remain natural, partly to encourage more field flowers, but also it serves as a better cover for butterflies,’’ says Lynn Woodworth. The tall grass provides cover for small animals and even has lured some deer from hiding. [This philosophy, observed off and on for many years, still guides our work today. We've even been managing the landscape with fire, restoring a natural balance that has been missing since the early settlement of Lookout Valley and Mountain.]

The board is continually working to strengthen its ties to the community. “Several of our board members will be working within the community because as the city grows, we feel that we want to be part of this,” said Mrs. Woodworth.

In an attempt to involve the public and help defray the increasing cost of feed and medical supplies, the Rehab Lab is beginning an “Adopt-a-Wildling” program in which sponsors will receive a photo, a biographical sketch and an adoption certificate for the animal they “adopt.”

Also, when people in the community purchase live Christmas trees with burlap-wrapped roots, the Riding has a program to plant the trees in the park after the holidays. The park provides each donor with a map showing where his or her heritage tree is planted, in order to see how the tree progresses over the years.

The various projects and work at Reflection Riding and the Chattanooga Nature Center provide what Page has called ‘‘a complete ecological experience.” The park achieves a delicate balance between the beauties of the creek and meadows and the tranquility of the ponds and mountain forests, as well as the history captured in the still-visible trenches of Confederate soldiers. It offers a uniquely different experience with every visit.

If you have any more information or other interesting historical tidbits, please share them with us! You can email [email protected] or drop by with any old articles or artifacts. We'd be happy to scan them and give them back to you.


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Posted by Mark McKnight  | Category: History

If you’re anything like me, you’re a plant lover. Maybe you acknowledge the beauty of a flower, or maybe you’re more of a biologist and acknowledge the sheer fact that we need plants to exist. I would say I’m both. We owe a lot to the plants on this planet. They give us food, shelter, medicines, and probably most importantly, oxygen! It’s time that we start giving back and realizing that it’s not all about gardens or pretty landscapes (although no one is against that), and it’s definitely not all about us. It’s about the health and well-being of our planet. Let’s start at the beginning.

What is an invasive species?

An invasive species is one that did not originally/naturally occur in the area that it is in, and one that can cause harm to environmental or human health. In our case, we will be talking about invasive plants!

Why are they here?

Most invasive plants are here (like privet, kudzu, and English ivy) because someone originally wanted them to be. They were planted as ornamental plants (people thought they were pretty), and now they are wreaking havoc on our landscapes. The thing is, these guys can reproduce at rapid rates because they don't have their natural competitors to keep them at bay. And unfortunately, our native plants can't simply move to a different location. Instead, they are out-competed by this more aggressive plant that was introduced into the landscape. It isn't fair!


Why should you care?

Invasive plants outcompete our native plant species by shading them from sunlight (think privet and kudzu) and using up all of their resources. Our native plants need adequate space, sun, water, and nourishment to live. With an aggressive plant like privet that grows very quickly, all of those resources are used up before our natives even get a chance. Kudzu can take over forests, killing trees by shading them from sunlight or becoming so heavy that they break the tree in half. And remember when I said that it’s not all about us? The wildlife that usually depend on native plants for habitat and food can be put in danger from dwindling resources. Invasive plants can also drastically change a landscape, affecting water flow patterns and nutrient cycling in the environment, as well as lowering biodiversity and therefore a healthy habitat for all living organisms. 

One example of how detrimental invasive plants can be is the example of Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and a native butterfly called Virginia White butterfly (Pieris virginiensis). Garlic mustard omits a chemical called sinigrin, an attractant found in most toothworts. The Virginia white butterfly uses this chemical attractant to identify the plant it wants to lay its eggs on (usually a toothwort, or Cardamine of some sort). Garlic mustard produces a much larger amount of sinigrin than toothworts, so the butterfly naturally chooses the plant with more sinigrin, being garlic mustard. The problem is that there’s TOO much sinigrin within garlic mustard, which is actually lethal to the caterpillars and causes them to die after ingesting the leaves. How sad is that? The butterfly evolved a certain way without this plant, and now it suffers because of its introduction to the butterfly’s habitat. This is just one way an invasive plant species can be bad for not only the land, but the wildlife surrounding it. 

Another example of invasive species is actually an insect from Asia called the hemlock wooly adelgid (Adelges tsugae). It affects one of our native trees (and one of my favorite trees), the eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). This adelgid is very tiny, but there are lots of them. They attach themselves to the base of the needles on the tree and deplete the tree of its nutrients, which eventually leads to needle loss and death of the tree. Whole forests of this tree are disappearing from this adelgid, which means tremendous habitat loss for the wildlife that depend on them.

 There are a multitude of other invasive species dynamics just like these two, and there is always something that we, as land owners and nature-lovers, can do to lessen the negative impact on the native plants that we know and love.

How can you help? 

When it comes to controlling invasive plant species, the best method is prevention - just don't plant them! Always plant native plants instead. Or at least make sure the plants you buy for your yard are not invasive before putting them in the ground. If you have invasive plants on your own property, you can easily do your part by removing them. It’s also good practice to check yourself before you leave an area that is infested and remove any seeds that may have attached to you while you were out, that way you are preventing the spread. And if you find that you enjoy being outdoors and helping out the land, maybe consider volunteering with a local nonprofit or state agency. A lot of organizations hold weed pulls and other opportunities for you to get involved! You could also talk to your local nursery to see if they’re on the right track when it comes to preventing the spread of invasives. Sadly, a lot of invasive plants such as Vinca and English ivy are still sold at nurseries as ground cover. Let’s put an end to this!

Here are some good resources for local information about invasive plants:

Tennessee Invasive Plant Council
Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health 

Join efforts with Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center! 

Let’s save our natives and show the invasives who’s boss!


About the Author

Melanie Flood is a nature-loving outdoors enthusiast. She constantly strives to take part in the conservation of our native plant species and hopes she can inspire others to do the same. When she isn't outside staring at plants, she's probably posting about them on her Instagram. Follow her @mflood023.

Posted by Melanie Flood  | Category: Horticulture

With Red Wolf mating season almost over, Director of Wildlife Tish Gailmard explains that it's near impossible to tell whether a female wolf is pregnant until the pups are born. We hope this year brings another litter! Read Tish's explanation below of why Red Wolf breeding is a concern worth your attention as well as different methods for breeding the captive population.

Photo by Bartel/USFWS

The Red Wolf is the most endangered canid in the world. With only 27-35 wild Red Wolves roaming one recovery release site in northeastern North Carolina and 200 in captivity, breeding can be critical to this species’ survival.

Reflection Riding is a breeding and exhibit facility for Red Wolves and has been since its membership in the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan began in 1996. We’ve had litters in 2007, 2011 and 2016.

You might ask what’s the big deal? Why is Red Wolf breeding a concern?

There a few things you need to know.

First of all, we almost lost this species to extinction. In 1980, the Red Wolf was forced into extinction in the wild to conserve the last 17 remaining Red Wolves. Of these 17, only 14 were strong enough to begin a captive breeding program to save this species. That’s a really small gene pool. When you are breeding an endangered species in captivity, it is critical to maintain genetic diversity - we must diversify and grow the family tree. That means hyper vigilance over the breeding co-efficient. We must select Red Wolves to breed that are the least genetically alike. Luckily, science provides the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (RWSSP) with a software program that tracks each Red Wolf’s pedigree - a road map of who’s closely related and who’s less related. Wouldn’t want to breed siblings, right? The idea is for the family tree to fork! 

Secondly, Red Wolves and coyotes can breed. This causes a serious dilution of genes resulting in hybrid offspring. Hybridization can quickly kill the family tree.

Thirdly, Red Wolves only breed one time per year. Males only produce sperm one time per year and females only go into estrus one time per year.  

So what do we do with all this information?

In captivity, we must determine which Red Wolves will breed based on their genetic value and we have to find a suitable mate - one who is the least related. As an institutional representative and management team member, I attend a summit meeting each summer where we determine who’s going to breed with whom based on the needs of the population. We must determine how many litters need to be produced to maintain or grow the population (whichever is deemed necessary for that breeding season), refer to the mean kinship list ( a measure of importance of an animal. Animals with low mean kinship are genetically important.  Mean kinship is calculated by the kinship (relatedness) of that animal with the entire current population (including itself). Therefore mean kinships per animal are relative to the current population) and begin the process of matchmaking. 

We’ve transferred Red Wolves to breed at our facility from as far away as Sioux Falls, SD. Red Wolves do not fly commercially, so all this travel requires driving or private planes. Usually, two institutions will pick a midpoint to meet and pick up or drop off a Red Wolf. Once the Red Wolf arrives at its new facility, there is usually an acclimation period (we call it a Hey, Howdy! time) where the Red Wolves are separated by fencing and have limited visual sight and physical proximity. After about 1 week of this introduction, the Red Wolves are placed in the same enclosure and with a little luck, (cue the Barry White music) they like each other and the relationship begins.

Red Wolf breeding season is January, February, March with the most northwestern facilities typically breeding last. After a 63 day gestation, pups are born in April and May. Litters can range from 1-9 pups. Eyes and ears open after 2 weeks and pups begin to wander out of the birthing place after about 5 weeks.

In the wild population, we do not engineer the breeding. Red Wolves select their own mates. To prevent Red Wolves from mating with coyotes and producing offspring - creative, out of the box thinking biologists came up with an innovative idea - a first in canid recovery. Sterilize coyotes in the recovery area and put them back on the landscape as place holders. Because this is their territory, they will hold out any fertile coyotes who try to move in and if they breed a Red Wolf, no offspring will occur. Brilliant and very successful! (Unfortunately, this has been halted by the state of North Carolina and US Fish and Wildlife based on a gross misinterpretation of data and inaccurate data- more on that in another entry.)

Another out of the box idea is introducing new genes into the wild population with cross fostering. When wild litters and captive litters are born within a few days of one another, captive pups can be fostered into a wild litter and are accepted by the mother with 100% success. This  genius idea is also a first in canid recovery. (and yes, it too has been halted by North Carolina and USFW). Less politics, more wolves!

In some cases when a genetically valuable Red Wolf has not bred, artificial insemination can be an option. Reflection Riding was fortunate enough to participate in this research. All of our current males have been collected and cryopreserved for future use. The research team that worked on this project consisted of our veterinarian, Dr. Chris Keller and his team from Mountain Hospital for Animals and two post doc students, one from the Smithsonian Conservation Institute and another who was on the team that first developed artificial insemination in dogs.

Luckily, Red Wolves breed fairly well in the wild and in captivity provided they are with the correct mate and are of breeding age. Reflection Riding has been fortunate enough to have successful pairs and hope to produce more litters in the future. As a very involved cooperator in the RWSSP, it’s our duty to support this program and this magnificent species. 

Red Wolves are...beauty, not beast and vital, not vicious.

Posted by Tish Gailmard  | Category: Wildlife

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