Pictured above is Robert Sparks Walker, sitting in the Elise Chapin Wildlife sanctuary
This post is a tribute to a much-loved and respected Chattanoogan from the early 1900’s named Robert Sparks Walker. RSW was a prolific writer as well as one of Tennessee’s leading naturalists and historians. The incredible good he did for Chattanooga’s “wild places” as well as his contributions to environmental education are still evident today.
During his lifetime, RSW wrote many books, including State Flowers and State Birds, As the Indians Left It, Lookout: The Story of a Mountain, and Torchlight to the Cherokees, which was nominated in 1931 for a Pulitzer Prize. His articles and poems also appeared in over six hundred newspapers and magazines for several decades, including the New York Times, Better Homes and Gardens, the Christian Science Monitor, and Nature Magazine. Mr. Walker also wrote a nature column for the Chattanooga Sunday Times for more than twenty-five years.
In 1944 Mr. Walker helped found a local Audubon Society which was named the Robert Sparks Walker Audubon Society, but later was renamed to the Chattanooga Audubon Society at Mr. Walker’s request. He was also president of the Tennessee State Horticultural Society and a life member of the Tennessee Academy of Science.
Mr. Walker devoted a large part of his life to the development of the Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary which was located near Spring Frog Cabin, where he was born. It was one of his favorite places and for years he spent nearly every day there, regardless of the weather. He was also involved with other Chattanooga landmarks, such as Maclellan Island, Fuller Ridge, and Hutcheson Refuge, all of which became Audubon Society possessions.
During his life Mr. Walker also identified and labeled more than 3,500 trees on school grounds and parks, broadcast a 15-minute weekly nature program on the radio, answered over 20,000 nature questions, organized the Chattanooga-Lookout Mountain Hiking Club, and founded and edited Flowers and Feather, a quarterly of the Chattanooga Audubon Society. He was listed in Who’s Who and received the 1954 Man of the Year Award presented by the Kiwanis Club of Chattanooga.
Mr. Walker died nearly 50 years ago on September 26, 1960 following a heart attack while walking in the Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary. He is buried next to Spring Frog Cabin in Audubon Acres, in south Chattanooga.
In the late 1980s Lupton Library, at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, received a large collection of Mr. Walker’s personal papers and manuscripts. The collection contains a diverse array of Mr. Walker’s personal papers, manuscripts, books, scrapbooks, poems and correspondence.