-A TOURISM HEAVEN
By Michael Hepworth
is a delightful city on the
that has such a strong community spirit, that it is no wonder that it has
made a remarkable turnaround since 1970. At that time Walter Cronkite
called it the “dirtiest city in
,” and downtown was definitely a place to avoid at all costs.
All that has changed now, with upscale condo developments
everywhere, art galleries, new restaurants and impressive looking hotels
have all been built. It still however has the feel of a small city, and
although some locals were complaining about the rush hour traffic, I never
saw any. More than 8 million people visit
each year and tourism is currently worth $690 million a year.
Founded around 1810 with the opening of a store by
Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Indians,
’s population had reached 2,000 by the year 1860. Despite numerous
setbacks such as a massive snowstorm in 1899 and various epidemics such as
Yellow fever and Spanish Influenza, the city has continued to grow. The
future also looks bright, with the recent announcement that Volkswagen
will be opening its USA Manufacturing Factory in the City in 2010,
bringing thousands of jobs to the local market.
is so user friendly that they offer a free electric shuttle service
downtown in clean new looking buses virtually the whole day. It connects
all of the hotels with the shopping district, restaurants, riverfront and
everything in between, and it runs every five minutes seven days a week up
until 11 pm at night. The City
however is an outside enthusiast’s dream, and one of the fun things to
do is take a bike ride along the Tennessee
River Walk- stretching from the downtown riverfront to
, a ten mile pathway with various scenic views of boardwalks, wetlands,
parks and more. There are literally hundreds of outdoor activities to
partake, and the Visitors Bureau is the place to check with prior to
visiting the city.
Of course most people think about the Chattanooga Choo Choo when they think of the city, and today the
railroad station is a Holiday Inn. I did not spend any time there at all
because my schedule was a bit rushed in a city with so much happening, but
they do have 363 guestrooms including 48 rooms aboard restored train cars.
Center is also a place worth a visit, located all on one floor and
offering 185,000 square feet of space. Of course they have to compete with
the likes of
for serious business, but this facility is so unique that any planner must
give it a serious look. It is the first center in the nation to
incorporate “day lighting” technology which allows sunlight to filter
in through 30-foot ceiling openings to complement the buildings artificial
light, and all at the flick of a switch.
Aquarium is the top tourist attraction in the State and it is not hard
to see why. There are two major buildings at the Aquarium, the River
Journey which was launched in 1992, and the Ocean Journey which saw its
debut in 2005. The former is the height of a 12-story building, and the
latter is the height of a ten-story building and holds a total of 700,000
gallons of water. Here you will find just to name a few- big, toothy
sharks and seahorse, cold climate penguins in their own display, tropical
Hyacinth macaws, otters, 70 species of turtles, snakes, alligators,
crocodiles, jellyfish, crabs, octopus, cuttlefish and crayfish. The River
Gorge Explorer takes up to 70 guests directly from the Aquarium to the
Tennessee River Gorge at speeds up to 50 mph to witness the unspoiled
stretch of the
. The cruise lasts 2 hours, and passengers will get the chance to see more
than 1,000 species of plants and animals including eagles and osprey. The
habitat is a birder’s paradise, and also includes rare songbirds and
Zoo is a pleasant way to spend part of the day, with the star
attractions being Hank the Chimpanzee and my personal favorites, Zoe and
Nigalya, the red pandas. Called the ‘Best Little Zoo in
,” the zoo continues to grow and expand, and is still mourning the death
of Pasha (aged 19), the Argentine Jaguar. He was a favorite with the kids,
but his spouse remains at the zoo but in ill health. Argentine Jaguars are
most critically endangered species in
, with only about 300 left in the wild.
Art is everywhere in
, and the downtown skyline is dominated by the river setting of the Hunter
Museum of American Art. It is in fact two separate buildings, the
Lobby and the Auditorium, and it is located in the
. This is one whole artistic area that is owned by one family, and the
area now includes restaurants, gardens boutiques, a hotel and art
galleries. The Museum features modern American artists, and is solely
devoted to art from the Colonial period to the present day. The mansion
was owned by George Thomas Hunter who had made his fortune through Coca
One very unusual space is the International Towing & Recovery Museum, that features the
history of tow trucks, and which houses some of these remarkable vehicles.
Obviously as you all know, the tow truck was invented in
in 1916, and even today the largest tow truck manufacturer in the world is
located here. Many of the tow trucks on display here were found rotting in
barns or rusting in fields, and have been lovingly restored by their
owners. The Museum has a Hall
of Fame and has recently introduced a limited number of “Wall of the
Fallen” Statues to honor tow truck drivers who have died at accident
scenes. Although not an obvious tourist haunt, it is well worth the visit.
One must visit is the Haunted
Cavern at Ruby Falls, an eerie underground adventure 260 feet below
the ground, an area that used to be an old German slaughterhouse. A couple
of the women that were brave enough to try the experience were genuinely
scared for most of the time, and were quite relieved when it was all over.
Unfortunately it is only open for a few weeks each year around Halloween
time, but it really is quite special.
Civil war buffs should head out to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, site of one of the bloodiest two day battles of the civil war
in 1964 with 34,000 casualties, and a turning point in the conflict.
It was established in 1890 by
and Confederate veterans, and even today they are finding cannon balls and
other remnants from the battle. The
best way to experience the Park is to sign up for the audio tour, and then
follow the tape as you drive in sequence to the various crucial points of
the battle that saw a Confederate victory. However due to blunders by the
High Command led by General Braxton Bragg ( still disliked in the South),
the Yankee troops were able to regroup in Chattanooga ( 8 miles away) and
eventually take Atlanta and the rest of the south. Even today, emotions
still run high in certain quarters, and the park rangers admit that they
still have to accommodate Confederate sympathizers with a certain amount
of caution and concern.
Art and Sculpture are everywhere in
, and the
is the place to go. The River
Gallery Sculpture Garden has been around 15 years, and is currently
featuring the work of Southern artist Casey Downing Jr. He works primarily
in stainless steel, corten and bronze, and his work is displayed along
with that of regular artists such as Dan Jackson and Evan Lewis in this
most delightful of settings.