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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Campers explore a wetland area at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center June 18, 2021.

Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center has grown beyond its gateway with the preservation of additional acreage this week, with a property acquisition from a private landowner.

The acquisition consists of 3 acres just outside Reflection Riding's entrance on Garden Road, now preserved and added to the 300 acres already protected inside the gate, according to a news release.

The acquisition uses federal grant dollars to permanently conserve and protect vital lands where Civil War battles took place — which surround the center — against development.

"It's really been inspiring to work with our anonymous donor and our neighbors on Garden Road to make this happen," Reflection Riding president/CEO Mark McKnight said in the news release. "These incredible people made possible a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to permanently conserve this property, which benefits our community in so many ways.

"This transaction expands the amount of land we can protect and restore, creates permanent public access to the Kiddie Trail and ensures that our children, grandchildren and those who come after them will experience even more of this beautiful historic landscape," he said.

Spokesperson Heather DeGaetano said the acquisition protects the Kiddie Trail's access to the federal park property at the Reflection Riding entrance, as well as access to miles of other trails on adjacent federal land. The purchase amount will become public with the release of federal funding later, DeGaetano said.

"We hope other private landowners and donors will be interested in working with us to accomplish similar long-term impact for this community," McKnight said.

Reflection Riding partners with the American Battlefield Trust to protect its historic, scenic and important landscape through a permanent historic conservation easement, according to officials. The trust lists the battlefield in Chattanooga and Chickamauga, Georgia, among its 20 must-see battlefields.

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Staff file photo by Matt Hamilton / Summer campers play and eat lunch at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center June 18, 2021.

"While individual buildings may come and go, this historic landscape and its botanical heritage will stay unchanged for future generations once this extra layer of legal protection goes into place," said Reflection Riding's Board of Trustees chairperson, Santosh Sankar.

"As the Chattanooga region grows, we lose opportunities to conserve land — especially open fields and grasslands — every day," Sankar said.

Members of the center's leadership have strong feelings about protecting as much of the surrounding landscape as possible, he said.

The acquisition is part of the center's "Framework for the Future" vision, which center officials say puts natural and cultural heritage on a pedestal, catalyzes ecological restoration and conservation and educates future generations.

"My kids grew up coming to Reflection Riding — from attending summer camp, to learning to hike longer distances, to figuring out how to paddle on the creek," longtime volunteer and Reflection Riding board member Jim Catanzaro said. "I can't imagine my hometown without this place.

"With our partners at the American Battlefield Trust and generous support from our Chattanooga community, this landscape and the connections to nature it holds will be protected forever," he said. "There's just not much more important than that."

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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