- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, Chattanooga had a deserted downtown on the Tennessee River and was smothered by soot from its foundries. In recent years, the riverfront city has transformed its skyline along with its reputation.

No longer the city known for America’s dirtiest air, Chattanooga has been reborn as the Scenic City.

Nothing symbolizes that change better than the grand openings the city is celebrating this spring as part of a three-year, $120 million redevelopment of the Tennessee River waterfront.

The Tennessee Aquarium, which pioneered the downtown revival and has attracted more than 1 million customers a year since 1992, added a new saltwater wing.

The redevelopment also includes a sculpture garden with a walkway linking it to an expanded Hunter Museum of American Art on an 80-foot-high bluff over the river. An incline transporter — a wheelchair-accessible cable car on a track — also runs along the walkway’s steep path.

The children’s museum, Creative Discovery Museum, has just added a new rooftop exhibit on simple machines and is opening a new arts-themed exhibit this summer.

There’s also a new 160-foot pier, with lights designed to create a prism effect during the day and a top-to-bottom glow after dark, providing closer access to the river.

On May 13, the city dedicated a pedestrian passage beneath Riverfront Parkway that commemorates Cherokee culture and the tribe’s forced removal on the Trail of Tears. A team of American Indian artists from Locust Grove, Okla., designed huge clay medallions for the passage.

Chad Smith, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Okla., said the ceremonies and project should boost public awareness about real American Indian history, instead of what people “see in sports mascots and old John Wayne movies.”

Mr. Smith said Chattanooga’s birthplace by the river, Ross’ Landing, was a “central point of dispatch” for Cherokees forced to leave the region in 1838 on the Trail of Tears.

“It was a gate from our homeland to Indian territory,” Mr. Smith said. “This is still our homeland, and we are coming back through that gate.”

Former Mayor Bob Corker, who coordinated the city’s 21st Century Riverfront project and fundraising, described it as a true partnership between public and private sectors.

A hotel-motel tax provided $56 million for the project, and private donors contributed $51 million. The state provided some additional funding and gave the city Riverfront Parkway, the street that runs along the waterfront.

“I don’t know of a community in America that could come together the way ours has,” Mr. Corker said. “We have this vital urban area that has been transformed, and all these God-given amenities around us.

“It truly feels very different than even a few years ago, despite all the success we have had in the past,” he said.

A 1969 federal government report identified Chattanooga as the most polluted city in the United States because of the smoke, ash and dust that was trapped by a perimeter of mountains.

Then foundries and smokestacks gave way to high-tech industries. Changes in emission standards and the use of unleaded gasoline were also major contributors to the cleanup, said Kelley Walters, a Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau official. Coal-burning power plants in the region also are “slowly cleaning themselves up,” she said.

Now, Outside Magazine rates Chattanooga as one of America’s Top 10 Dream Towns, with an outdoor recreation lineup that includes hiking, camping, hang gliding, rock climbing and nearby whitewater rafting.

The Scenic City, though, has been getting ready for some new competition. About one-quarter of the Tennessee Aquarium’s customers travel from the Atlanta area, 120 miles away, and now that city plans to open the larger Georgia Aquarium later this year.

A Warner Robins, Ga., teacher, Stacy Odoms, said last week while visiting Chattanooga as a chaperone with seventh-graders that she first visited the Tennessee Aquarium as an 11th-grader.

“I like how they have it fixed it, so you can walk through yourself,” said Miss Odoms. She said an aquarium in Atlanta would not be the same.

“They don’t have the water. They don’t have the riverboats. They don’t have the mountains or the scenery,” Miss Odoms said. “That makes a difference.”

• • •

Chattanooga Riverfront: New parks and recreation facilities, including a new pier, along the Tennessee River between the Olgiati Bridge and the Market Street Bridge; www.chattanoogariverfront.com or www.downtownchattanooga.org.

Tennessee Aquarium: 1 Broad St.; www.tnaqua.org or 800/262-0695. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; open until 8 p.m. weekends from June through Labor Day. Adults, $17.95; children 3 to 12, $9.50.

The Passage: Public art project to honor Cherokee Indians, located next to the aquarium.

Hunter Museum of American Art: 10 Bluff View; www.huntermuseum.org or 423/267-0968. New sculpture garden and connecting walkway. Adults, $7; children, 3 to 12, $3.50. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Creative Discovery Museum: 321 Chestnut St.; www.cdmfun.org or 423/756-2738. Adults, $7.95; children 2 to 12, $5.95. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily Memorial Day to Labor Day; before Memorial Day, closes at 5 p.m. and opens at noon on Sunday.

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