published Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Family fumes over Reflection Riding/Nature Center change

The sign of the newly combined Chattanooga Nature Center and the Reflection Riding Arboretum & Botanical Garden stands inside the tent for the celebration party. They are merging into the Chattanooga Arboretum & Nature Center.
The sign of the newly combined Chattanooga Nature Center and the Reflection Riding Arboretum & Botanical Garden stands inside the tent for the celebration party. They are merging into the Chattanooga Arboretum & Nature Center.
Photo by Jenna Walker.
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TIMELINE

1927 -- John and Margaret Chambliss began purchasing overworked farms that would become Reflection Riding.

1956 -- The couple established Reflection Riding as a nonprofit trust and put the land in conservation for the public. The trust requires the land be open to the public for education and enjoyment.

1979 -- Acreage was broken off the tract and donated to the local Junior League for the establishment of a nature center.

2010 -- The Nature Center announces the restructuring of the two adjoining properties and organizations.

Source: John Chambliss, news articles

A name change and reorganization of the governing boards of Reflection Riding Arboretum and the Chattanooga Nature Center last July have members of Reflection Riding's founding family upset.

"I would like to know why it was done. Everything is pointing toward the detriment of what I call Reflection Riding," said John Chambliss, a grandson of Reflection Riding's founding couple, John and Margaret Chambliss.

"The aboretum's management responsibility was given to the Nature Center, and they have no experience managing a 300-acre arboretum. None whatsoever," Chambliss said.

The blended public face of the organizations has been renamed the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center.

The center's new board also will control Reflection Riding's $3.75 million endowment and trust fund, Chambliss said, and the staff and the funds already have been redirected to work at the Nature Center.

The new board's president, John Mitchum, disagreed with Chambliss and said the change -- which he terms a restructuring rather than a merger -- is better for both the Nature Center and Reflection Riding.

Though the change was to make a stronger and more efficient organization, he said, "in combining the lands and budgets and staffs ... we don't plan to be smaller, we plan to be bigger."

Mitchum, a local real estate broker who has been on the Nature Center board for about 10 years, said the change will allow the two organizations to make one funding request from donors and foundations at a time when gift dollars are diminishing.

Several of John and Margaret Chambliss' grandchildren have written letters to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, decrying the change.

"The name John and Margaret Chambliss chose was erased. The arboretum newsletter was replaced with the Nature Center's newsletter. The PR in the newsletter, signs, news releases, and websites shows a pattern of eclipsing Reflection Riding and reshaping it in the image of the Nature Center. What travesty is this?" wrote Ann Chambliss, a granddaughter living in Winter Park, Fla.

Betsy Chambliss McLean, of Wenatchee, Wash., and another granddaughter, said her grandparents spent decades of travel, research and hard work on their development of an accessible landscape for public enjoyment.

"Neither I nor any of the out-of-town grandchildren or great-grandchildren were made aware of the name change, or the mission change, before the announcement of the merger with the Chattanooga Nature Center was sent out," she said.

But at least one grandchild, Nelson Irvine, favored the change and was a member of the planning committee that adopted it. He said the board is aware of the concern, but it is premature for him to comment.

Mitchum said the endowment still will be governed by the Reflection Riding Land Conservation Trust, which will have a new nine-member board announced next month by the new Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center executive board. The trust board will serve as the executive committee of the Nature Center, he said.

Mitchum declined to name the new board members for either organization.

"Reflection Riding's name is not gone away and not diminished," he said. "The board is keenly aware of the fondness and affection to the name of Reflection Riding. We honored the name by retaining it in the Reflection Riding [Land Conservation] Trust. We did not shut down the trust."

He said both organizations had annual operating budgets of about $400,000 to $450,000. He declined to say what the new single operating budget will be.

There is no public money spent on either the old Chattanooga Nature Center or the new Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center, he said.

But Mitchum said he and the new executive board members are sensitive to the Chambliss family's concerns, and some signage about Reflection Riding still may be arranged, along with an application for recognition of Reflection Riding as a state historic site.

Reflection Riding is a 300-acre arboretum and botanical garden established in 1956 by John and Margaret Chambliss as a means of studying and conserving native plant life.

The name Reflection Riding, however, was something not always understood by the public. Ridings were a typical English creation of the mid-18th century to encompass the progression of scenery in a place as seen from a carriage or by horseback.

The term "riding" was chosen by the elder John Chambliss to define the type of place he wanted to establish, according to his family.

Mrs. Chambliss added the word "reflection" to draw attention to the natural beauty in the surrounding ponds and creek, but also to emphasize the area as a place for reflection, according to the arboretum's website.

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about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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NorthChatter said...

Is this really that difficult? Call it Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center.

No matter what they call it, it will always be Reflection Riding in my mind (and I assume, many others). It is a beautiful name. The new name, while appropriately descriptive, is boring.

November 30, 2011 at 12:57 a.m.
rolando said...

"Follow the money"; always a good adage.

This is the first I heard of the place but after reading the article, it is obvious it is very much more than a simple name change.

First, the new organization now has full access to the $3.75million trust fund. It has named nine new people to "take over" the trust fund, presumably to follow the new Nature Center org's directions on use of the fund. It has also combined the budgets of the formerly separate orgs into one big pot...giving it control of both budgets to use at it sees fit.

In summary, this is just another dying gasp of one group to seize the funds of another, still viable, group...and effectively eliminating all former members of the latter from participating.

Is Littlefield somehow involved in this scheme? It seems to bear his imprimatur...

November 30, 2011 at 4:19 a.m.
joepulitzer said...

While they are at it, they should go on and change the name Lookout Mountain to Greater Chattanooga Mountain. It has a similar ring to it.

November 30, 2011 at 7:21 a.m.
adolphochs said...

As I recall when the Chamblisses asked what it should be named, someone said "Let's call it Reflection Riding", to which Mr. Chambliss responded, "Whatever". It's been a few years ago but that's what I remember.

November 30, 2011 at 9:12 a.m.
Carl said...

They can't hide their disrespect or greed.

November 30, 2011 at 9:24 a.m.
hcirehttae said...

"The sign of the newly combined Chattanooga Nature Center and the Reflective Riding Arboretum & Botanical Garden stands inside the tent for the celebration party. They are merging into the Chattanooga Arboretum & Nature Center."

I think the mistake in the above photo caption pretty much tells the whole story. It's a beautiful name, but not comprehensible to the average Chattanoogan.

November 30, 2011 at 10:22 a.m.
McRand said...

You beat me to it, NorthChatter, my sentiments exactly.

November 30, 2011 at 11:08 a.m.
stratparrott said...

It would seem that if the Chambliss Grandchildren were so concerned with upholding something of such importance to their family, they might have taken part in the running of the organization.

Someone, presumably not in relation to the Chambliss family, owned/ran Reflection Riding or was put in charge. I would imagine that they can do with it whatever they like and hold no reason to tell Chambliss family member who (probably) haven't been a part of Reflection Riding for a loooong time, if ever.

November 30, 2011 at 11:37 a.m.
myopinion101 said...

Name sounds great to me, NorthChatter!! Good thinking, and it didn't require brain surgery to come up with it either!! They probably should change it to "Greedy (It's mine now)Gardens" --
There are probably people out there, that we just don't know about yet, that are wanting to change the name of Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, Signal Mountain, Raccoon (animal lovers probably hate this) Mountain, Coke, Moon Pie, and even Little Debbie!! One never knows, but one day, we'll find out, probably at the last minute!!!

November 30, 2011 at 12:41 p.m.
primitive said...

Congrats on the merger! I could only chuckle when Mr. Chambliss spoke on property management and who is capable of this. It seems as if few have really been passionate about fashioning Ref. Riding into something that it could really be. This has resulted from a severely low work force and lack of vision. I hope this merger is a good step in the right direction because of all this "green" talk and the "eco"-types around these parts it is simply scandalous that a city of this size has no respectable Arboretum or Public Garden. May this merger be the beginning!

November 30, 2011 at 1:20 p.m.
bret said...

adolphochs said...

As I recall when the Chamblisses asked what it should be named, someone said "Let's call it Reflection Riding", to which Mr. Chambliss responded, "Whatever". It's been a few years ago but that's what I remember.

This is hogwash. Please don't spread lies when you don't know what you're talking about.

November 30, 2011 at 9:50 p.m.
bret said...

stratparrott said...

Someone, presumably not in relation to the Chambliss family, owned/ran Reflection Riding or was put in charge. I would imagine that they can do with it whatever they like and hold no reason to tell Chambliss family member who (probably) haven't been a part of Reflection Riding for a loooong time, if ever.

More false information. My late friend, Mr. Jac Chambliss, oversaw the running of Reflection Riding for years. It was only through his generosity that the Nature Center existed in that location. Mr. Chambliss led a long and wonderful life before passing at age 99, and even though he had traveled the world many times, Reflection Riding was his most special place. When asked how he would like Reflection Riding to be in 20 years, he answered, "Pretty much as it is now."

Mr. Chambliss's son, John, is also a friend of mine. He shares his dad's love for the land, as does his sister, Betsy, a fine lady herself. They grew up on that land which was their family farm, and it is perfectly understandable that they would like to see it retain the beauty that they remember and that we who visit there can still cherish.

The name "Reflection Riding" is important to them and was not chosen whimsically as one fool suggested. So I can understand their sorrow at feeling that all that they had is now gone, even the name. As a Chattanoogan, I'd feel the same way if our city's name was changed to Littlefield or Ricotown. It might be just a name to some, but for others it is much more than that.

For me, it is a place to go to enjoy Nature, Reflect, and to try to capture in photos. Here is a gallery of some shots I've taken at that magical place.

http://bretdouglas.smugmug.com/Photos/CNC/17027623_bH76Zh

November 30, 2011 at 10:22 p.m.
bret said...

For those that have never been to Reflection Riding and wonder what the fuss is about, this little 30-second video explains it better than I can.

Be sure to watch it fullscreen in full 1080p if you can.

November 30, 2011 at 10:41 p.m.
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