Chattanooga Audubon Society, city departments to conduct prescribed burn on Maclellan Island

Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / Two men fish from a boat, next to Maclellan Island in the Tennessee River, in the shade of one of the Veterans Bridge's columns in 2020. The Chattanooga Audubon Society, in collaboration with several departments of the city of Chattanooga, will conduct a prescribed burn on Maclellan Island during the period of Feb. 15-March 15 to clear out invasive plant species and restore native species.
Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / Two men fish from a boat, next to Maclellan Island in the Tennessee River, in the shade of one of the Veterans Bridge's columns in 2020. The Chattanooga Audubon Society, in collaboration with several departments of the city of Chattanooga, will conduct a prescribed burn on Maclellan Island during the period of Feb. 15-March 15 to clear out invasive plant species and restore native species.


The Chattanooga Audubon Society, in collaboration with several departments of the city of Chattanooga, will conduct a 25-acre prescribed burn on Maclellan Island to clear out invasive plant species and restore the island's native ecosystem.

The burn will occur during a period from Feb. 15-March 15, officials said at a Wednesday news conference. On the day that a burn is to be conducted, officials will restrict traffic on Veterans Bridge, which passes over Maclellan Island, to one lane going either direction from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Justin Strickland, the city's Division of Transportation spokesperson, said at the conference. Bicycle and pedestrian traffic will not be permitted on the bridge while a burn is conducted, Strickland said.

"So, it will not affect the morning and evening rush hour, and we will still be able to keep traffic moving on the bridge," Strickland said. "No one will be allowed to stop on the bridge, and ... at any point that we deem there is something unsafe taking place, whether it's folks unfortunately rubbernecking or whether there could be an unsafe situation, we would immediately close the bridge."

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On-water traffic will be permitted to pass the island during the burn, Strickland said. Spectators can view the burn from any public space, such as the Walnut Street Bridge or Coolidge Park, he said.

Officials will be looking for ideal weather conditions before conducting the burn, Robert Gray, head of the burn operation, said at the conference. Wind speed and direction will be important for controlling smoke produced from the burn, he said.

"Smoke management for prescribed burns is one of the most critical things that we are wanting to handle," Gray said. "In this case, we're going to be right downtown ... and the last thing we want to do is (have) smoke in any of the businesses, residences downtown. So, we're going to be looking to get the wind speed and wind direction going the way we want it to, to have the least impact on the city."

Several of the American flags that line the bridge will be temporarily removed prior to the burn to protect them from soot from the smoke, Strickland said.

The time frame for the burn was selected because it is the dormant season when plants are not actively growing and animals are not looking for nesting sites, Gray said. With the invasive plant species cleared out by the burn, the island's native species will be able to regrow, he said. Additionally, once the burn is completed, the Audubon Society will plant some native species on the island.

"We are excited to get the island back in condition where people can enjoy it better," Jim Stewart, executive director of the Audubon Society, said in an interview after the conference. "Right now, you can see how overgrown it is; we want to have it in a good state. We're going to collaborate with the Maclellan Foundation and our staff and volunteers to make it a real special place that everybody in Chattanooga can enjoy."

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An additional prescribed burn will be conducted at Audubon Acres during the same time period as the Maclellan Island burn, officials said. That burn will occur at a time when the school children who use the sanctuary are not present, such as weekends, holidays or spring break, officials said.

Contact Sam Still at sstill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6579.

  photo  Staff photo by Robin Rudd / From front to back, Veterans Bridge, Walnut Street Bridge, Market Street Bridge and the Olgiati Bridge cross the Tennessee River before disappearing behind Maclellan Island, left, in the photo made from the Tennessee Riverpark in 2022. The Chattanooga Audubon Society, in collaboration with several departments of the city of Chattanooga, will conduct a prescribed burn on Maclellan Island during the period of Feb. 15-March 15 to clear out invasive plant species and restore native species.
 
 
 


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