Reflection Riding’s new vision has re-focused the Tennessee landscape, conservation, and education


The Reflection Riding Arboretum and the Nature Center published a new framework for the future on Monday after a seven-month commitment and planning process under the direction of the renowned landscape architecture firm SCAPE. In connection with the release of the framework, Reflection Riding has also launched a new website: www.reflectionriding.org.

At its core, the vision characterizes a change in the ethics of nature conservation compared to native landscapes in the southeast by using restored historical ecosystems – wet meadows, grasslands, prairies, pine savannas, wetlands and alluvial forests – as learning landscapes for an up-and-coming generation of environment managers.

Developed from Fall 2020 to Spring 2021, the framework brings together detailed contributions and efforts from over 800 participants, including staff, board members, volunteers, residents and community members, to create a rubric that will guide the institution into the future while keeping the current programs running maintains and expands.

“This really is the culmination of our mission to bring the great outdoors to all Chattanoogans,” said Mark McKnight, President and CEO of Reflection Riding. “We are particularly excited about all of the feedback we have received that is essential to revitalizing an organization that many consider a staple in Chattanooga.”

For more than 50 years, Reflection Riding has provided the Chattanooga community with a place to experience and engage with the natural environment and connect with the geological, ecological and cultural history of the area. The framework focuses on four goals:

1. Restoring and maintaining the ecological integrity of the region’s natural habitats. Reflection Riding aims to set a gold standard for education and conservation around native ecology by showcasing the restored ecosystems throughout the property as they develop.

2. Promoting environmental literacy in the various communities of Chattanooga through hands-on experience. Building on existing programs, Reflection Riding will incorporate a regional network of educators with science and ecology curricula based on experiential learning.

3. Create an inclusive and accessible environment that promotes the physical and mental wellbeing of all. A network of paths and facilities will focus on the barrier-free design for visitors of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, improve safe circulation and harmonize recreational use with environmental protection.

4. Plan sustainable growth and anticipate change. As Reflection Riding continues to grow, it will build organizational capacity while adapting to current and future risks – including the increased flooding caused by climate change.

“This collaboration has really harmonized our two organizations’ missions: improving ecology, promoting universal access, and creating spaces for education and ongoing management of the Appalachian landscapes,” said Nans Voron, senior associate at SCAPE.

The supporting program brings together environmental and institutional requirements and consolidates programs in an activity center near the north entrance of the site and establishes an immersive entrance to a new visitor center with picturesque views of Lookout Mountain and connections to a network of hiking trails as well as flexible education and programs during the 300th Acre side.

The framework focuses on restoring key native plant communities across the site – including grasslands, endangered prairies, pine savannas, wetlands, riparian forests, and more. Seeds and cuttings for this effort are sourced directly from the local nursery, and restoration is being incorporated into Reflection Riding’s educational programs to involve students and visitors in managing Tennessee’s rich biodiversity. The framework provides for an expanded nursery, which will be expanded to include a new visitor center and provide space for education, group meetings, receptions and sales as well as plant propagation.

A new canopy walk raises the existing boardwalk above the projected flood levels of Lookout Creek and leads to the forest school and kindergarten. A new wayfinding system transforms the existing network of paths into a system of “themed loops” that allow visitors to immerse themselves in various aspects of the site – such as geology, hydrology and cultural history. Digital tools will enable educators and visitors to crowdsource the landscapes.

Overall, the new vision for Reflection Riding will allow visitors to get a different perspective of the landscape each time they visit, instilling a sense of awe for the property’s natural and cultural heritage, while also training a new generation of environmentalists, said officials.


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