It’s no secret: The Secret City is a nice place to live and visit.
The city of Oak Ridge was established in 1942 as a production site for the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during World War II, but Oak Ridge was kept a secret and hidden from maps until 1946 – a year after WWII ended. The city housed more than 75,000 people at the peak of the Manhattan Project.
Today, Oak Ridge is a thriving community of nearly 30,000 residents and features a diversified economy strong in sectors like advanced manufacturing, distribution, education, healthcare and technology. Another big contributor to the economy is tourism, with many people visiting the Secret City to learn more about the interesting role that Oak Ridge played in helping to bring WWII to an end.
Here are some places to go and things to do in this one-of-a-kind city in eastern Tennessee:
Check Out the Lab
Oak Ridge remains the site of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where scientific development still plays a crucial role in the city’s economy and culture in general. Guided tours that highlight parts of the original laboratory and grounds are open to the public from June through September.
One of the most popular attractions in Oak Ridge is the American Museum of Science & Energy, which offers educational and interactive displays dedicated to energy, with a focus on nuclear power. The museum is open for tours all year long.
Bring the Kids
With dozens of hands-on exhibits, Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge is in a former Highland View Elementary School that was built in the 1940s to serve children of Manhattan Project employees. Exhibits for the kids today have names like Model Trains, Waterworks, The Bird Room, The Dollhouse, A Century of Toys and Puppet Room.
Head to Haw
Rowing along the Clinch River (pictured) is one of the many activities available to visitors at Haw Ridge Park, situated on a pretty peninsula between Oak Ridge and Knoxville. Nearly 30 miles of trails at Haw Ridge accommodate hikers, runners and mountain bikers, and also available to the public are fishing, boating, horseback riding and wildlife watching.
Learn About the Project
A new Manhattan Project National Park is now open in Oak Ridge, telling the story about the people, science and engineering that created the atomic bomb. The Oak Ridge site is run by the National Park Service and the Department of Energy along with similar parks in Hanford, WA and Los Alamos, NM.
Aah, Smell the Flowers
More than 2,500 native and exotic plants and flowers representing 800 species are showcased at the University of Tennessee Arboretum. The facility is operated by the University of Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station and open weekdays without charge, and visitors can access four nature trails with interpretive signs.
Get some exercise and see some gorgeous scenery along Emory Valley Greenway, which runs through a natural area along the backwater of Melton Hill Reservoir and along a creek. The asphalt pathway is fairly level and easy for hiking, jogging, bicycling, rollerblading and walking your pet. Emory Valley Greenway stretches 3.1 miles one way.
Ride the Devil
Cars, trucks and motorcycles are welcome to drive along the scenic Devil’s Triangle stretch of road that begins at an old castle-like, prisoner-built Brushy Mountain Prison on State Route 116. Many curves and winding stretches highlight the 72-mile excursion that passes just north of Oak Ridge.