With the hope of developing technology that would end World War II, the U.S. government built the City of Oak Ridge under a cloak of great secrecy. When Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, the city of Oak Ridge didn’t even exist. But in early 1942, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, under the code name “Manhattan Project,” purchased 59,000 acres of family farms and small rural communities in East Tennessee, for a top-secret mission to produce the world’s first atomic weapons, and end the war. Just two-and-a-half years later, the Secret City jumped to a population of 75,000, making it the fifth-largest city in Tennessee at the time — and it wasn’t on any maps.
In 2015, the US Department of Energy and the US Department of the Interior partnered to open one-third of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Oak Ridge to commemorate and tell the story of the people, places and science that began the atomic age. Explore the story at the American Museum of Science and Energy, the Oak Ridge History Museum, the Y-12 History Museum, the K-25 History Museum and the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge. All these museums give a one-of-a-kind, hands on look at how the Secret City came to be and how the city’s global impact has drastically changed the world over almost eight decades.
Once a “Secret City” behind fences and guarded gates, today, Oak Ridge is anything but a secret. Home to the US Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex, Oak Ridge has become a global leader in innovative science, engineering and technology. But there’s more then super computers and science to explore.
Oak Ridge’s outdoor activities have become so popular that they attract visitors from all over the southeast to hike and bike the more than 85 miles of trails and greenways in the city. Mountain bikers have flocked to Haw Ridge Park and the Windrock Bike Park for some of the gnarliest trails around. Oak Ridge is also popular with bird watchers and flower hunters. The University of Tennessee’s Arboretum in Oak Ridge is a great place to begin.
But don’t stop there! Fishing, boating, paddling, swimming, are all easily accessible in Oak Ridge. Rent a kayak or stand up paddle board, take a rowing lesson, or cast your line out for some record breaking musky while you spend time enjoying the 30 miles of shoreline Oak Ridge has to offer. The glassy water of Melton Hill Lake, is one of the nation’s premier competitive rowing destinations and has played host to US National Rowing Championships, the NCAA National Rowing Championships, and annually welcomes college and high school teams for spring training.
If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that Oak Ridge has a thriving arts and culture scene, with one of the longest continuously running playhouses in the southeast. Visitors are encouraged to explore the culinary offerings in Oak Ridge as well. Places like Big Ed’s Pizza, Dean’s Restaurant, Jefferson Fountain, and The Soup Kitchen, are staples that every visitor must experience. In the evening, check out local craft beers and live music at Crafter’s Brew, an eclectic little place, on the Oak Ridge Turnpike.
A visit to Oak Ridge is not only rewarding, it’s convenient since Oak Ridge is only 25 minutes from downtown Knoxville, 55 minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and 3 hours from Nashville.
What are you waiting for? There’s so much more to Explore in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. For more information visit www.ExploreOakRidge.com.