The Chattanooga Nature Center has been living and teaching the principles of conservation, even before “being green” in the Tennessee Valley was the popular thing to do. Over thirty years ago, a group of far-sighted individuals had a dream to bring nature into the lives of every Chattanooga citizen—from school children, to families, to senior citizens. This committed group, under the direction of the Junior League of Chattanooga and with the help of generous donors, built a nature center using the most innovative, sustainable design available at that time. Their goal was to inspire people, not only with wonders of the natural world, but also with the knowledge necessary to preserve nature for future generations.
Educating visitors about new approaches for energy efficiency was an important factor in the design of the new buildings. At the time, the design was, state of the art in environmental engineering. TVA reviewed the project early for concepts in energy design and technology as an integral part of the education center. Features included passive solar heating systems, south-facing windows, operable clerestories, R-38 building insulation, breezeways and cooling corridors and other energy saving technologies and landscaping. All the buildings were originally heated with wood burning stoves, and there was no air conditioning at all. With only minor amendments, the buildings remain surprisingly efficient. Many of these energy-saving features have remained in use over these 30 years of operation. The design plans, created by the Franklin Group, were featured at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh in 1979.
The project was spearheaded by a unique collaboration between the Junior League of Chattanooga and Reflection Riding. Through their combined effort and partnership, the new Chattanooga Nature Center was able to raise over $500,000 to build the facility. In September 1979, the ribbon was officially cut, and the Nature Center opened.
And since that day, for thirty years now, CNC has faithfully carried on its important work. Over half a million students and visitors have touched the land, exploring the forests, meadows and wetlands, while learning about the plants and animals that share our habitat. They have observed conservation in practice through the uniquely designed buildings, the constructed wetland, and CNC’s use of everyday sustainable practices such as recycling and energy conservation. People of all ages have gained new understandings about nature during their visits. Students have been inspired to a lifelong passion for the natural world often influencing their career choices as veterinarians, conservationists, outdoor educators and scientists.