5 Star Stories: The Lichterman Nature Center, an urban oasis

5 Star Stories: The Lichterman Nature Center, an urban oasis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - On this first day of fall, the Mid-South is getting ready for the fall foliage and when the leaves turn, there’s no better place to take in the beauty of autumn than The Lichterman Nature Center.

The center is America’s first accredited nature center and an accredited arboretum that connects Mid-Southerners to the local ecosystem from its stunning sanctuary off Quince Road in the middle of East Memphis.

The 65 acres of forest, meadow, and lake waters are teeming with wild plants and wildlife in their native habitat.

Kevin Thompson, the Executive Director of the Museum of Science & History, which operates the center, says the focus is conservation.

“And then we do what we call our animal ambassadors and we take that into the school systems and teach the kids about animals and their habitats, and they’re all local and regional to our area,” he explained.

Creatures that fly, crawl, slither, and swim are on display in the center’s Backyard Wildlife Center.

“One of my favorites is an alligator snapping turtle,” Lichterman Nature Center Manager Andy Williams said. “It’s around 75 pounds, and it’s huge, but he’s behind a really thick Plexiglas wall, and he’ll come out and fish in front of the window by fishing, he holds his mouth open, and he’s got a pink tongue he wiggles like a worm, and the fish are ambushed and go inside.”

The educational opportunities were endless at Lichterman.

“All our education programs are based on state testing standards,” Williams said.

You can rent the pavilion for your business meeting, birthday, or wedding.

Take in an outdoor program at the amphitheater or watch plants grow in the Greenhouse and Plant Propagation Center.

These birdhouses are specifically designed to call Purple Martins.

“The ecology is a very important factor of who we are and who we became as a city,” Thompson explained.

The land, once part of a 5,000-acre plantation in the mid-1800s passed through many hands, some famous, from Piggly Wiggly founder Clarence Saunders to baseball Hall of Famer and New York Giants manager “Memphis Bill” Terry.

Brothers-in-law and business partners Ira Lichterman and William Loewenburg were the fifth owners, and it became a park in 1972, after Lichterman’s widow donated several acres to the city.

The log home, which became the park’s centerpiece, caught fire in 1994, sparking a renovation.

“It burned to the ground and so, the city got together with Memphis Museums, Incorporated in a public-private partnership and rebuilt it into the campus that we have today,” Williams added.

Williams describes the center as an urban oasis. You can walk nearly three miles of trails, feed the fish, or stroll across the picturesque bridge above a bed of American Lotus.

“They have flowers like dinner plates and the leaves are easily two feet across,” he said with his hands stretched out.

At peak, 30,000 kids a year take field trips where the buffalo pose, and you can learn a thing or two about the mammals of the Mid-South in a perfect setting for social distancing.

“If you’re concerned about a lot of visitors at the facility then just come early, sign up for it online, small fee, and they’ll do a nature walk,” Thompson said. “You can easily get lost on the trails and just spend the whole day, wandering the woods.”

The Lichterman sells plants, hosts events, and conducts tours. For rates, important dates, trail maps, and even a tree list, click this link: http://www.memphismuseums.org/lichterman-nature-center/.

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