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Wednesday, 13 September 2017 15:04

The Naturalist's Corner: Pardon me Roy, is that the cat that chewed your new shoes

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Number one daughter had a big camping weekend planned with friends and their families at Lake Chatuge over Labor Day. So we came up with an impromptu plan for Maddie and us. We made reservations at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. We had taken Izzy to the aquarium when she was a tot and she enjoyed it, Maddie had never been so we figured this was a good opportunity.

Our first stop was the iconic Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. The hotel is located in the old terminal station, which in the early 1970s appeared to be headed for demolition like it’s sister union station and much of historic downtown Chattanooga. A group of investors rescued the Choo Choo and in 1974 the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The hotel received another infusion in 1989 and again in 2014 and today it anchors the southern end of the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA,) which provides free electric shuttles from the Choo Choo on the south end to the Tennessee Aquarium on the north end.

The Choo Choo offers about 48 rooms from refitted Pullman cars plus more traditional digs in the MacArthur Building and Empress Building. We stayed in the MacArthur Building and the rooms were beginning to show their age but they were clean and staff was friendly and we found the Frothy Monkey restaurant great with plenty of vegetarian fare.

There is a large outdoor space between the lobby and the MacArthur Building that parallels the Pullman car rooms. The green space is composed of small garden areas, tables and chairs, benches and games like corn hole, bocce ball and even one giant checkerboard. At night gas torches lighted the green space and there was an indoor pool for the fish, a.k.a. Maddie. Suffice it to say we found our accommodations quite pleasant but have to admit only being in the room for bedtime — there was too much to do.

We arrived Sunday afternoon just before lunchtime, too early for 3 p.m. check-in time, but staff gave us a temporary parking permit so we could park our car and walk across the street to the shuttle. In about 15 minutes we were at the Tennessee Aquarium. The aquarium was much the way we remembered it from our visit with Izzy years ago, except we found no water or fountains in front of the aquarium. Maybe they have discontinued this, as there is a new exhibit — the Passage, memorializing the Trail of Tears, which includes “water steps” and a wading pool adjacent the aquarium.

The aquarium is laid out in two buildings, the River Journey and the Ocean Journey. The River Journey starts in an Appalachian Cove Forest and flows all the way to the Mississippi Delta with a peak at Rivers of the World displaying giant catfish and freshwater stingrays. River otters and their antics garner lots of attention as well as a lake sturgeon display where visitors can touch these gentle giants and learn about efforts to reestablish them in their native habitats.

The Ocean Journey is replete with sharks, green sea turtles and a plethora of colorful saltwater fishes. The Ocean Journey also houses a lemur forest, penguin’s rock and butterfly garden plus much more. Petting opportunities also abound in the Ocean Journey where guests can touch different species of rays and/or sharks.

Upon leaving the aquarium we spied High Point Climbing and Fitness with its unique outside blue wall. High Point boasts 30,000 square feet of climbing (including bouldering) inside to go with its outside wall. Maddie was intrigued.

Monday morning after checking out of the Choo Choo we were able to leave our car there and, once again, jump on the shuttle for downtown. Maddie toured High Point inside and out, even conquering the blue wall — after which she offered, “You know the best part about climbing? After reaching the top you just lean back and kick off!”

The impromptu trip was a success. We may try and muck it up by planning next time because there is so much more to do along the river in downtown Chattanooga.

(Don Hendershot is a naturalist and a writer who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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