Secret Island

In the Tennessee River, between the Bluff View Art District and the North Shore, there is an island.  Most people call it Maclellan Island.  The owners call it Audubon Island.  Long ago, it was Chattanooga Island. Before that, it was Ross’s Landing Island.  Whatever you call it, it’s a tough place to get to.

It’s a place I’ve wanted to see since we first came to Chattanooga.  It’s inaccessibility made it that much more desirable of a destination.  I tried a group who does kayaking tours, a business that rents paddle boards, and a water taxi service to no avail.

But finally, the Chattanooga Audubon Society is offering a tour.  Today is the big day with the Chattanooga Duck Tours providing transport.

Captain Alex takes us through downtown Chattanooga, educating us on the history of the buildings.  We had no idea that so many of them had been around since the 1800’s.  Then, we take a running dive into the river in our 1940’s DUKW vehicle, built by Rosie Riveters during WWII.  She still holds water.

We make it to McClellan Island safe and sound–and knowing a lot more about the riverfront development effort, too.

The island has 1.5 miles of trails that have been freshly groomed, but there is already poison ivy reappearing all over the trail.  Now, poison ivy is a native plant that’s good for birds and I have nothing against poison ivy.  I just don’t want to come in contact with it.  We step gingerly to avoid coming in contact, although it’s pretty much impossible.

A great-crested fly catcher sings a greeting for us, although we only catch an occasional glimpse of him flying from one tree top to the next.  We also hear a wood thrush, an Eastern towhee, and many other common birds.

Sadly, it’s hard to see anything through the dense privet, honey suckle, and vinca taking over the woods.  It makes me sad to see how devastated this tiny island is by plants that have invaded here.  Poison ivy is by far the most prolific native growing on the island, but even it is out-competed by the invasives.

The first wild-growing oak-leaf hydrangea in this county was discovered here on this tiny island just days before.  It represents a glimmer of hope that the ecosystem of this tiny green space can still be saved.  The clusters of white flowers shine through the shadows and remind us how beautiful nature, on its own, can be.

Back on the duck, we get the best view possible through fully leafed-out trees of a heron rookery.  There is also an Osprey on its nest on a platform at the end of the island.  As we come around the far side of the island, a group of double-crested cormorants perch in the trees.

I only wish we could spend more time sitting (far from poison ivy) and listening for all the birds that call this tiny sanctuary home.