This story was updated at 11:20 a.m. on Friday, March 20, 2020, with more information.
Reversing an earlier decision to remain open to members, Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center announced Friday morning that the grounds are now closed to all visitors.
The facility shut down all public programming last week, following the lead of Hamilton County Schools, but President Mark McKnight said gates to the 317 acres would remain open to members in search of "open, well-ventilated spaces."
"Unfortunately, we have to announce that in compliance with the CDC guidelines and in an attempt to 'flatten the curve,' we are closing the property to the public including members, effective immediately," he said in a statement.
"Our ultimate priority is health and well-being (physical and mental) for our patrons and our environment'" he said. "We all need to get outside and reconnect with nature, now more than ever, but we must do it safely."
McKnight said he had envisioned the property staying open as a nature solace where social distancing would be easy, but "very quickly it was clear people were not doing that."
Instead of walking the expansive grounds, visitors were gravitating toward the playground, treehouse and other physical structures.
"We had multiple families who showed up and were playing on the playground, touching all the same stuff, and they would leave and more families would show up," McKnight said. "They were using the same areas and touching the same things. It became clear this was not responsible behavior."
Chattanooga Zoo, much of which can be enjoyed as an outdoor walk-through, was also among the city's few tourist attractions that previously announced plans to stay open. It closed Tuesday, joining a list that includes some of the city's most iconic fixtures, including Rock City, Hunter Museum of American Art and the Tennessee Aquarium, the region's biggest draw. Tourism is a $1.1 billion industry in Chattanooga.
Still open is the city's 33-acre Sculpture Fields at Montague Park, where visitors often gather to walk, picnic and fly kites among the more than 30 large-scale sculptures.
"As of right now, we are open," spokeswoman Kathie Scobee Fulgham said Friday morning. "But we are strongly encouraging social distancing."