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Tours and Visitation

Oak Ridge offers a general facility tour, during the summer months, leaving from the museum. This is the DOE facility tour, and lasts about two and a half hours. The tour takes the visitor to the X-10 reactor, drives through ORNL, goes around the Y-12 complex, and passes near K-25. Though tour is essentially free; but does require admission to the museum, which costs $5. Still, the charge is pretty nominal, and once you tour the facilities, you will likely want to stop off at the museum anyway.

In addition to the DOE bus tour, there is also the train tour, which last a bit over an hour. This tour passes through the gates of the K-25 complex, skirting the facility, and then trundles off into the Tennessee countryside. The cost is $15, and the train does have a snack car. The cars and engine are all of forties vintage, probably not very different from those which brought the war workers, during the Manhattan project. This probably gives the closest view of the old K-25 building, of any public tour.

During the Secret City Festival, a few other tours are also offered. The most interesting, is probably the Y-12 tour. No cameras are allowed on this tour, which actually takes the visitor inside of the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex. the tour lasts an hour and a half, and leaves from the New Hope Center, just outside of the Y012 complex itself. These tours are free; but are only offered during the festival. There are also some exhibits, handouts, and even DVDs available at the New Hope Center. The tor is limited to United States Citizens, and you must have either a passport, or a birth certificate, in order to take this tour.

Also available during the festival, is the Heritage Center History Trail Tour, which leaves from the museum. It is offered by the Atomic Heritage Foundation, costs $10, and lasts just under two hours. This tour concentrates mostly on the area around the K-25 plant, and emphasizes the history of the Oak Ridge area, and the many small communities which were uprooted when the project took the area over. Many of the small farming communities here had cemeteries (which have been preserved and maintained), schools, and churches. There is even a slave cemetery here, from a local plantation. Also featured is a look at the remains of the Happy Valley ghost town (formerly 12,000 residents), and stops at various vistas and lookouts.

There is also a shorter tour, of the X-10 reactor, and of the ORNL complex. This tour lasts about an hour and a half, and is a sort of a truncated version of the longer DOE tour offered through out the summer. The tour is free, and departs from the museum.

Below are a few shots taken during the Heritage Center History Trail Tour.

Ray Smith was our guide on this particular tour. All of the facility photos on this site were taken on three of the four tours that were offered. I decided to highlight this particular tour, because there were things shown that did not really fit in anywhere else on the site.
This is the inside of the Visitor Center at the K-25 scenic overlook. Though blocked, and incomplete, this is probably the best view that you can get of the old K-25 plant.
An outside view of the K-25 Scenic Overlook Visitor Center.
This is the road (now closed to the public) through what had once been called Paradise valley. This were where 12,000 of the workers lived, who had built K-25.
A look down the path to Paradise Valley. Nearly nothing is left now. The buildings were put up in a hurry, without any foundations laid, and were knocked down when construction was complete. The government did not particularly want to have people living so close to K-25.
Where this area was once filled with houses, or at any rate shacks, it is now empty, except for the overgrowth.
One of the few things remaining is the occasional fireplug. This was once on a street corner, lined with structures, it now sits out in the middle of the woods.
Ray gets out to unlatch the gate. There is nothing particularly secret about the old Paradise valley area; but it is private, historic, and the roads are terrible. This particular road leads to a section once occupied by one of the many small farming communities here. It is now gone, except for the old church and cemetery. This road is used by former residents of the town, to visit their dead relatives.
The old church and old cemetery still stand, as they do for most of the little town which once stood here.
Ray closes the gate behind us, as we exit back on to the Wheat District Greenway
Ray has some old pictures of what the area had once looked like. we pass them back and forth, on our way back.
Power lines strewn across one of the many hills here. The requirement for power, to run all of these facilities can not be overstated.
An old road begins to crumble into the hillside. The hills, rainy weather, and heavy traffic conspire to make roadwork a constant requirement.
These covered railcars are loaded full of low level nuclear waste. Interestingly, they are heading out to the Low level Nuclear Waste facility at the Nevada Test Site - where I recently visited.
Tennessee was part of The South, and there were plantations here. This is the largest African burial ground in the country. These were all slave graves, and were all unmarked. In most cases, burial was more a matter of hygiene, to get the bodies disposed of, than any religious or family ritual.

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