Tucked away behind a busy Memphis intersection, obscured by tree-lined fences, you’ll find 65 acres of wooded oasis called Lichterman Nature Center, aka my favorite place in Memphis.
As you drive down Quince Road, just past Ridgeway, you might see the butterfly adorned sign at the entrance, or like most, you’ve driven past it countless times, unaware of the hidden gem so close at hand. Lichterman Nature Center offers a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, a respite from the noise of urban life, and a chance to reconnect with and learn about nature without ever leaving the city limits.
If you’ve never visited, heard of, or like so many native Memphians, haven’t been since your second-grade field trip many, many years ago, you might not know the story of Lichterman Nature Center. In the mid-1800s the property at what is now 5992 Quince Road, was part of a 5,000-acre working plantation. As the years passed, portions of the plantation were sold to other Memphians who used the land for various purposes – horse racing, dairy farming, and even a golf course. At one point, the property was owned by Clarence Saunders, the infamous owner of Piggly Wiggly who had a penchant for constructing large, elaborate homes and ultimately losing them due to financial distress (the pink mansion that serves as the namesake for The Pink Palace Museum was commissioned by Saunders). In 1929, Saunders had a 7,000 sqft log home built on the property, but in 1932, he was forced to surrender his estate due to unpaid debts.
In 1944, Ira Lichterman and William Loewenburg (brothers-in-law and business partners) purchased the property, and in the early 1960s, they began selling portions of the estate to capitalize on the rapid growth of the Memphis suburbs. In 1963, after Ira Lichterman’s death, his wife, Lottie, donated a portion of the estate to the Memphis Park Commission. In 1972, with the donation from Lottie Lichterman and additional land purchased by the Memphis Park Commission, Lichterman Nature Center was born. If you’re nerdy like me and would like to read more about the history and development of Lichterman Nature Center, click here.
Today, there is no log cabin home, golf course, or dairy cows. Instead, you’ll find a certified arboretum, trails through the woods, a lake where turtles bask on partially submerged logs, flocks of geese, an interactive visitor’s center, a greenhouse, a wildlife center, and more.
The first stop is the Visitor’s Center where, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet bubbly Ms. Joyce and snag a couple of bags of fish food before heading outside. The Visitor’s Center has several interactive exhibits focused on native wildlife, ecosystems, and environmental conservation. Once you head out onto the grounds, follow the path to cross over the lake. The trails wind through the trees, past pavilions, over boardwalks, and through the forest where the canopy is so thick, the sun can just peek through. Lizards scurry through the underbrush, box turtles traipse through the leaves, and squirrels chase each other from branch to branch overhead. When you make your way back to the central pavilion, you can stop and have a picnic on the lawn, where the red-eared sliders lay their eggs in the spring and early summer.
During your visit, take a stroll over to the Backyard Wildlife Center, where you can meet the dozens of animals that curator Mary Schmidt and trained teacher/naturalists care for. At 12 o’clock, Tuesday-Saturday, one of the animals will be brought out for “Wild Lunch” where you can learn about that special species. The Backyard Wildlife Center has a little bit of everything – tiny spiders and beetles, pencil-thin rough green snakes and 3-foot-long king snakes, red-eared sliders and pancake-shaped softshell turtles, and my personal favorites, a couple of awesome opossums.
The Backyard Wildlife Center has a small meadow where butterflies, bumblebees, and hummingbirds stop by for a snack. There’s also a sunken observation space where fish swim past your head and you can see the alligator snapping turtle in her little personal lake waiting for lunch. Through the back door of the wildlife center, there is a raised forest boardwalk, where you can walk out into the woods and look down over the forest floor.
Lichterman Nature Center is an amazing place for visitors of all ages. The grounds are meticulously cared for, the animals are healthy and happy, the education programs are thorough and entertaining, and the staff is friendly and helpful. Dr. Dawn Manning, Chief Teacher/Naturalist and Camp Director, is tirelessly dedicated to keeping the programs fun, exciting, and innovative. If you get a chance to meet her during your visit, I guarantee you’ll learn something new and get a good laugh while you’re at it.
The center offers education programs for schools and groups either at the nature center or they can bring the show to you. If your little one loves animals, Lichterman has a great birthday party program as well. You can even select the animals you would like one of the teacher/naturalists to bring to the party! For more information about field trips, Nature 2 U Outreach programs, or birthdays call 901-636-2221, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lichterman is also the perfect place for special events! There are open-air, covered, and indoor options for weddings, parties, and corporate functions. For more information on facility rentals call 901-636-2213.
Lichterman Nature Center is part of The Pink Palace Family of Museums.
Hours of Operation: Tuesday – Thursday 10a – 3p, Friday & Saturday 10a – 4p
$9 adults, $8 seniors, $5 children, free – children 2 and under
Admission is FREE on Tuesdays after 1 pm.
Upcoming Events at Lichterman Nature Center:
Free Yoga Mondays – beginning October 14
Free yoga classes for Pink Palace Family of Museum Members and/or YMCA members. Call 636-2221 for more information.
Simon & Siouxsie of Snake City – Saturday, October 19
Nat Geo’s Wild Simon & Siouxsie of Snake City will be at Lichterman Nature Center from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm. For ticket information, click here.
Lichterman Nature Center cannot accept any injured/orphaned wildlife. Please do not leave injured/orphaned animals on the premises. For a list of local wildlife rehabilitators, please visit the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency website.