Chattanooga, Tennessee is Ginormous

By Bob & Barbara Epstein

Now that Merriam-Webster, the dictionary people over in Springfield, Massachussetts says it’s OK, and have updated their new dictionary versions to include “ginormous” along with some 99 other new words, we can now say that our experience visiting Chattanooga and local environs was just that: “Ginormous.” This an adjective out of gigantic and enormous. Why? Well read on and we’ll tell you why.

First of all, a little orienteering is in order: Chattanooga is the fourth-largest city in Tennessee (after Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville). It is located in southeast Tennessee on Chickamauga and Nickajack Lake, which are both part of the Tennessee River, near the border of Georgia, and at the junction of three interstate highways, I-24, I-75, and I-59.

The city (downtown elevation approximately 685 feet), which lies at the transition between the ridge-and-valley portion of the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau, is surrounded by ridges.

Absolutely one of the finest cities in America and it wasn’t always so. Today, Chattanooga has for the most part cleaned up and shows very well for tourists and residents alike. Giant multi-million dollar revitalization projects have transformed the city into a first class visitors wonderland. We visited the giant multi–level aquarium with their new penguin exhibit and expanded exhibits of all manner of marine critters. Outside children frolic’d in an an expansive mini water themed and blended hands-on, or should I say feet-in landscaping addition, with fountain squirting cold water into the air and children encourage to wade and soak in a mini stream that meanders through the main entrance ways, to the various aquarium venues.

Chattanooga is also the home to the Hunter Museum of American Art, an interesting and eclectically well known art museum with sculpture and painted variety wonderfully displayed in a setting of world class and panoramically situated overlooks of the Tennesee River. As birthplace of the tow truck, Chattanooga is home to the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum, as well as another transportation icon at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, the largest operating historic railroad in the south. Other notable museums include the Chattanooga Regional History Museum, the National Medal of Honor Museum, the Houston Museum, and the Chattanooga African American Museum,

The Chattanooga Symphony & Opera which is currently led by Musical Director & Conductor Robert Bernhardt holds its performances at the Tivoli Theatre. Another popular performance venue is Memorial Auditorium.

The Chattanooga Theatre Centre offers fifteen productions each year in three separate theater programs: the Mainstage, the Circle Theater, and the Youth Theater.

Chattanooga is host to the biennial Conference on Southern Literature, sponsored by the Arts & Education Council of Chattanooga and the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

In 2007 Chattanooga was host to the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) State of Tennessee Ten Show. The local Chattanooga Chapter of the AIGA, AIGA50, plans and hosts design events throughout the years.

Chattanooga has traditionally touted its tourist attractions, including the Tennessee Aquarium (a freshwater and, as of May 2005, a saltwater aquarium), caverns, and heavy development along and across the Tennessee River. In the downtown area are the Creative Discovery Museum (a hands-on children’s museum dedicated to science, art, and music), an IMAX 3D Theatre, and the newly expanded Hunter Museum of American Art.

The red-and-black painted “See Rock City” (you’ve got to visit their caves and underground waterfall) barns along highways in the Southeast are remnants of a now classic Americana tourism campaign to attract visitors to the Rock City tourist attraction in nearby Lookout Mountain, Georgia. The mountain is also home to Ruby Falls, Craven’s House and the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, a steep funicular railway which rises from historic St. Elmo to the top of the mountain to drop passengers off at the National Park Service’s Point Park and The Battles for Chattanooga Museum (formerly known as Confederama), a quirky diorama that details, of course, the Battle of Chattanooga.

From the military park, visitors can enjoy the panoramic views of Moccasin Bend and the Chattanooga skyline from the mountain’s famous “point” or from vantage points along the well-designated trail system. Just outside Chattanooga, the Raccoon Mountain Resevoir, Raccoon Mountain Caverns and Reflection Riding Arboretum and Botanical Garden boast a number of outdoor and family fun opportunities, while the Ocoee River, host to a number of events from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, features rafting, kayaking, camping and hiking. Back in Chattanooga, smaller tourist attractions include Lake Winnepesaukah amusement park, Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park, Bonny Oaks Arboretum, Cherokee Arboretum at Audubon Acres and Cherokee Trail Arboretum.

Barb and I had an eye opening experience visiting this vibrant exciting city, it certainly was a great place to spend 5-days visiting most of the attractions and several of the museum mentioned in this article. Should you visit there are top accomodations and we loved ours at the Holiday Inn Choo Choo Resort with circular pools, actual refurbished railroad cars to stay in as room accomodations, and a trolley ride around there 25-acre property.

We even got to go fly fishing on the clear, clean Hiwassee River. We caught a few trout on the fly and enjoyed a terrific trip thanks to Tick, our guide who fishes with Dane Law-a liscensed outfitter and guide as well as owner of Southeastern Anglers.

If you can make it to Chattanooga don’t forget to book a ride on the Blue Moon Eco Cruise and tour the Tennessee River Gorge. You’ll never forget it!

Go to Chattanooga’s website: www.southeasttennessee.com for more detailed vacation information and a list of private and RV State Park facilities.

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