Tennessee Aquarium, Rock City, other Chattanooga attractions closing in coronavirus scare

The Tennessee Aquarium is seen from the Republic Centre building Thursday, May 28, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Republic Centre is the tallest building in Chattanooga.

UPDATE: The Chattanooga Zoo is closed to the public until further notice and High Point Climbing and Fitness has temporarily suspended operations of all facilities beginning March 18 through March 31.


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As concern about the spread of coronavirus grows, at least six Chattanooga tourist attractions will temporarily close, including the Tennessee Aquarium, the region's biggest draw.

Closures at the Aquarium, the Imax 3D Theater, Creative Discovery Museum, Hunter Museum of American Art, Rock City Gardens and the Battles for Chattanooga Museum start this weekend, a move expected to deal a staggering blow to the city's $1.1 billion annual tourism industry just as the annual spring uptick in visitors begins.

Tennessee Aquarium officials announced Friday that the Aquarium and adjacent Imax 3D Theater would close through March 27 "in an abundance of caution for Aquarium guests, staff, volunteers and the Chattanooga community."

"We will use the time during the closure to fully disinfect all Aquarium buildings," said President and CEO Keith Sanford.

Crews also will be on site to feed and monitor the animals.

Creative Discovery Museum will be closed to the general public March 14-20.

"CDM will continue to monitor the local and national spread of COVID-19 closely and follow recommendations from local government and public health officials and will evaluate reopening on a weekly basis," said a statement from Kyrstin Hill, marketing and communications manager.


Open (subject to change)* Sculpture FieldsClosed* Battles for Chattanooga Museum* Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center* Chattanooga Zoo* Creative Discovery Museum (exceptions for scheduled birthday parties and lock-ins)* High Point Climbing and Fitness* Hunter Museum of American Art* Imax 3D Theater* Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center (members may access grounds)* Rock City Gardens (coffee and ice cream shops open for counter service)* Ruby Falls* Songbirds Guitar Museum* Tennessee Aquarium* Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

(Read more: Chattanooga area cancellations due to coronavirus fears)

However, the museum will allow entry for participants in previously scheduled birthday parties and lock-ins this weekend, "due to the nature of the contained environments and small numbers of people served through those programs," she said.

Rock City will be closed for two weeks effective March 14, with an anticipated open date of March 28.

"We did not make this determination lightly, because we know that many visitors were looking forward to our award-winning Shamrock City event," said See Rock City President and COO Susan Harris. "Although we are disappointed, we know we have responsibilities in our community to lead with health and safety as our top priority."

Other SRC Inc. properties with operating changes include the Battles for Chattanooga Museum, which is also closing March 24-27. The Rock City Starbucks and Clumpies Ice Cream shops will be open but offering only counter service.

The Hunter Museum locked the doors at the close of business Friday, with no immediate to reopen. All scheduled programs will be canceled or postponed.

"Ticketholders will be notified of cancellations and/or rescheduled dates, and refunds are being honored," said Cara G. McGowan, director of marketing and communications.

Following the lead of Hamilton County Schools, Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center has shut down all public programming until March 30, but its 317 acres will remain open to members seeking "open, well-ventilated spaces."

"What little is known about this novel virus, we believe in the power of the outdoors, and we know that parents and all of our members will need a place to relieve stress and recreate as we all deal with this global threat," said President Mark McKnight in a statement.

Normally, visitors pay an admission donation when they enter Reflection Riding, but with the offices closed "we won't have a physical spot to accept donations during this time," said Bess Turner, outreach coordinator. But, she said, "it is affordable to become a member [online], especially students/families who want to get out of the house and not be in a crowd."

New memberships will offer support "while we are unable to host schools for field trips or continue with our public programming," she said.

The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum announced Friday evening that the museum would be closing all public events March 14-20. Ruby Falls also announced late Friday evening that it would temporarily close in response to COVID-19 beginning Saturday, March 14.


Not all attractions were scooping up the welcome mats, but representatives said they are hyperfocused on cleanliness and are continuing to monitor guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local authorities.

At High Point Climbing and Fitness, Partner/President John Wiygul said they're also asking guests to help minimize exposure at the indoor climbing facility.

"In addition to our rigorous cleaning routine, we are increasing our sanitation of high-traffic touch points and providing reminders to members and guests to wash their hands frequently," he said.

Chattanooga Zoo will remain open and operating as normal for the foreseeable future, said Hannah Hammon, director of advancement.

"This is subject to change, and signs will be posted on our grounds to notify guests if any area of the Zoo is closed," she said.

Special programming such as Wild Encounters and Zooniversity homeschool classes also will continue as scheduled. However, the RendeZoo: Princesses and Frogs Day scheduled for March 14 has been postponed.

Like Reflection Riding, Sculpture Fields will focus on its wide open spaces as a selling point during the coronavirus threat. The park's 33 acres make it a viable option for families looking to avoid densely populated venues, said spokeswoman Kathie Scobee Fulgham.

"In addition to checking out the colossal sculptures, visitors can fly kites and Frisbees, picnic, exercise, bike, play and make some memories," she said.

Staff writer Susan Pierce contributed to this story.

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.