Rex Harrison initially thought the Tennessee Aquarium would never be more than a giant fish tank when it was built 15 years ago in downtown Chattanooga.
But he’s glad to see that the attraction has grown, because its resources are now spilling over into his small North Georgia town.
An aquarium horticulturist recently visited Trenton, Ga., to give the town advice on how to alleviate flooding in Jenkins Park, where a creek walk is being developed.
“It’s about bringing volunteers from other places (like the Tennessee Aquarium) down here to help us with a vision to show the people of Dade County or the city of Trenton what we are trying to do,” said Mr. Harrison, the chairman of the Trenton Downtown Development Authority. “This is helping us change the face of our city.”
Environmental experts from the Tennessee Aquarium have helped other small towns in Tennessee and Georgia in a variety of ways, from teaching school lessons to helping promote water quality.
Bill Haley, education outreach coordinator for the aquarium, said programs were given to 28,000 people outside of the aquarium last year. He travels within a 125 mile radius of Chattanooga, visiting schools from LaFayette, Ga., to Arab, Ala.
“The Tennessee Aquarium is considered to be a world-class aquarium, and some people don’t realize sometimes how lucky they are to have a resource like that at hand,” Mr. Haley said.
Mr. Haley has visited Whitwell Middle School in Marion County, Tenn., for several years.
Fifth-grade science teacher Sue Cates said students are enthralled when he brings animals to teach lessons such as “Bones or Not,” a study of vertebrate and invertebrate animals. She said the fee charged for the lessons is much less than for a field trip.
“The people that come from the aquarium are excellent educators,” Ms. Cates said. “After they leave, it’s hard to get (students) to do a regular classroom activity because they love the thrill of having them.”
The aquarium also teaches teachers. Many of the training programs are held at the Ocoee Whitewater Center in Polk County, Tenn.
Cleveland, Tenn., uses the teacher training program to meet public outreach requirements for its federally mandated stormwater program. If the city doesn’t follow clean water requirements, it can face fines.
“It saves us quite a bit because we don’t have to pay to put that class on,” said Cleveland stormwater manager Jonathan Jobe. “It’s a pretty intensive class. I wouldn’t know where else to find an instructor.”
In Trenton, Ga., the aquarium’s advice is being used to spruce up Jenkins Park and kick-start a 12-mile walking trail that organizers hope will soon meander across the valleys below Lookout Mountain and Sand Mountain.
Erosion on the banks of Town Creek remains a persistent problem, and charging rains can bury the parking area under a foot water.
Charlene Nash, a senior horticulturist at the Tennessee Aquarium, toured Jenkins Park and suggested planting a garden in a depression that would retain rainwater. She said a mix of cardinal flowers, ferns and other plants will beautify the park, solve the flooding and improve water quality.
“If nothing comes from it, they are at least educated and they understand,” Ms. Nash said. “If yards had rain gardens, and every big parking lot had rain gardens, then all this dirty, oil-ridden water wouldn’t be going to the river, and it wouldn’t be going so fast.”
Ms. Nash gave her presentation to the Trenton City Council, and plans are being devised to implement her suggestions.
Bob Dombrowski, a member of the Trenton Arts Council who has worked on the creek walk project, said the City Council is considering funding options. He said the town may not have been able to get consulting help without the Tennessee Aquarium.
“You know how politics are in small towns,” he said. “It can be very difficult to go through the channels that the state offers, or through the district and so forth and so on. So this is like a stroke of lighting coming right through.”
ON THE WEB
For information on the Tennessee Aquarium’s education programs and teacher training, visit www.tnaqua.org/kidsteachers/outreach.asp.