The Enchantment of Reflection Riding

June 6th, 2018

"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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