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

"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

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