Q&A with Rock City President and COO Susan Harris

By Drake Farmer

We recently wrote about the business of the outdoor industry in Chattanooga, a major component of Chattanooga's identity. 

Rock City is one of many businesses in and around Chattanooga based around our status as an outdoors destination. 

The rooftops of red and black barns strewn across America broadcast "See Rock City," and for nearly 100 years, tourists and residents alike have been taking that message to heart. 

We spoke with Susan Harris, President and COO of Rock City, about Rock City's involvement in our area and it's plans for the future. 


Trend: Have you seen increased interest in outdoor recreation and getting outside?

Harris: Since Rock City Gardens is a natural attraction, we do see interest from travelers looking for authentic outdoor experiences. Often when guests are coming to Chattanooga or Lookout Mountain for other reasons (like Ironman, trail races, rock climbing, softball, soccer, etc.), we are on their list of places to visit. We work closely with the Sports and Events Committee and the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to make sure we know who will be in the area and how we can invite them to see Rock City.

Trend: How is your business more successful in Chattanooga than it would be located elsewhere?

Harris: Rock City Gardens is a natural walking garden situated atop Lookout Mountain with wondrous rock formations and gorgeous views of the Chattanooga Valley – our location is one of our competitive advantages.

Trend: What are some emerging trends related to your industry that you’re paying attention to?

Harris: We are committed to providing interactive and immersive guest experiences, as that authenticity is a driving factor for travelers. We have an innovation team that is focused on how to be relevant to the changing needs and desires of our guests, and we have a robust event calendar that features music, food, and family fun throughout the year. Additionally, we are cognizant of how food tourism impacts travel planning, and have seen great success with Café 7, located inside Rock City, and Clumpies Ice Cream Co., as well as our in-park food offerings.

Trend: What’s something significant coming up for your business?

Harris: Rock City Gardens will turn 85 on May 21 this year, and we commemorate the attraction’s legacy during our Southern Blooms Festival and Founder’s Day Celebration. Southern Blooms takes place May 13-14 and May 20-21, with special activities both weekends. This event will kick off a year of fun as we honor our founders, Garnet and Frieda Carter, and celebrate our 85th birthday.

Trend: What is the most rewarding thing about being part of your organization?

Harris: The people. Our mission is to create memories worth repeating for our guests and our partners, and we have a team of people who are committed to fulfilling this mission on a daily basis. We have team members who have worked with us for 20 or 30 years, and partners (employees) who are starting their employment with us just like their parents or grandparents did. Similarly, we have guests who visit every year, guests who share their family vacation with us, guests with bucket list objectives and guests who come to celebrate their own life milestones. We get the honor of connecting with people and sharing our beautiful place with them.