Magazine

Over the River and Through the Woods: Nashville's Remarkable Greenspaces

Percy Warner Park in the fall / Photo by Bill Hobbs Photography billhobbs.com

Percy Warner Park in the fall / Photo by Bill Hobbs Photography billhobbs.com

Percy Warner Park in the fall / Photo by Bill Hobbs Photography billhobbs.com

Nashville is many things, not the least of which is a city noted for its remarkable greenspaces. It may be one of our fair city’s hidden gems, for our wide expanses of city parks and national trails and community natural areas are not what is first noticed about our beloved hometown. From Harlinsdale Park in Franklin to the Beaman Nature Park in Nashville and all points in between, Nashville is quite unique in our amount of well-maintained, historic and publicly accessible nature.

One of the most historic parks in Nashville are the Warner Parks, which are in fact two parks joined as one, named for brothers Percy and Edwin Warner. First opened in 1927, the two parks have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984. Indeed, the parks are one of the largest urban parks in the country. “We have 3,132 acres that provide exercise, as well as peace, quiet and renewal for the people in this community – all for free!,” stated Eleanor Willis, executive director of the Friends of Warner Parks, a non-profit organization begun in 1987 to support the preservation and long-term success of the Warner Parks. The Warner Parks, unlike a number of other more recently constructed local areas, also include a veritable treasure of historical structures. Within its acreage, the Warner Parks have a number of limestone pavilions and buildings built during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration that bring a stately appearance and one-of-a-kind aura to the Parks. One of Nashvillians’ favorite places for annual fall family pictures and group outings, the Warner Parks’ pavilions are a beautiful addition to the Parks. Indeed, Ms. Willis stated that, after almost 20 years at the helm of the Friends of Warner Parks, her favorite spots in the Parks would be the iconic pavilions throughout the park. “I love the historic WPA picnic shelters built back in the late 1930’s and restored this year,” declared Willis. From enjoying a challenging game of golf to observing the wildlife and flora so abundant in the Parks, the Warner Parks are an invaluable piece of Nashville’s history – bringing enjoyment, peace and tranquility to our bustling city.

Beaman Nature Park / Photo courtesy of Metro Govt. of Nashville and Davidson County

Beaman Nature Park / Photo courtesy of Metro Govt. of Nashville and Davidson County

Moving on to other remarkable greenspaces in our area, we would be remiss without mentioning some newer facilities in our area. One of the “new kids on the block” would be Beaman Park, whose Nature Center was first opened for visitors in 2008. Beaman Park and its included nature trails provide a unique landscape for hikers and, relatively rare in Nashville’s parks, their canine buddies. Dogs are welcome to hike the trails at Beaman Park with their two-legged friends, and this is a beloved detail that our local pet lovers enthuse over every time you ask them. While they don’ t specifically mention man’s best friend, the Mayors’ office certainly enthuses over Beaman Park as well. “Located in northwest Nashville near Joelton, this wild and rugged land is a unique treasure in Nashville’s park system and features a Highland Rim forest type, unique plant associations and species, and a rugged landscape with steep slopes, narrow hollows, and streams and waterfalls.” If you’ ve not yet been to Beaman Park, we would certainly encourage you to do so. And don’ t forget to bring Fido!

The historic Park at Harlinsdale Farm is one of Franklin’s newest parks yet is one of the oldest equestrian facilities in the area / Photo by Leigh Greenwood

The historic Park at Harlinsdale Farm is one of Franklin’s newest parks yet is one of the oldest equestrian facilities in the area / Photo by Leigh Greenwood

Fido would also be happy to discover that other areas of town outside of Nashville proper are also quite happy to treat both dogs and people to a fun experience outdoors. Williamson County, Nashville’s neighbor to the south, includes a number of leash-free dog parks for its citizens to enjoy. The City of Franklin maintains a number of dog parks in the area – one of which is located within one of Franklin’s newest parks. The Park at Harlinsdale Farm, while one of the newest facilities in the City of Franklin’s Parks Department, is one of the oldest and most historic equestrian facilities in our region.

It was owned and operated by the Harlin family until Franklin excitedly agreed to oversee the land as its newest city park in 2007. The Harlin family and the Harlinsdale Farm have played a vital role in the development of the state’s Walking Horse Industry. Their famous stallion Midnight Sun was the first horse to ever win the World Grand Championship multiple times, and almost every Walking Horse champion today can trace its lineage to Midnight Sun.

The farm’s historic buildings are being renovated with plans to provide a retrospective look at the region’s proud equestrian history to future generations. In addition to the dog park and a locally stocked fishing pond, The Park at Harlinsdale Farm provides beautifully-groomed lawns, white-washed four-plank fences and pea gravel drives reminiscent of stately horse farms of the time.

Radnor Lake is one of Nashville’s most beautiful parks. / Photo by Russ Corley

Radnor Lake is one of Nashville’s most beautiful parks. / Photo by Russ Corley

Long considered Nashville’s own “Walden Pond,” Radnor Lake is also one of Nashville’s outdoor treasures. Comprising 904 acres of pristine wildlife and ecological diversity, Radnor Lake is a popular destination for hikers, nature lovers and photographers. Begun as a former corporate retreat for railroad executives, Radnor Lake is the quintessential example of preserving nature for a community. Henry David Thoreau wrote in 1853, “I have a room all to myself; it is nature.” And so does every visitor to Radnor Lake. One of our area’s most visited parks, it still is able to maintain that feeling of solitude and reflection while traversing through its hiking trails and scenic views around the lake. A trip to Radnor Lake at any time of year is not to be missed, but the fall season is an especially good time to plan a trip. The old-growth forest of the area that has been so well preserved is on breath-taking display once the leaves begin to turn. It is a sight to behold! We encourage you to plan a trip soon. You will not be disappointed!

The Natchez Trace Parkway is known for its beautiful fall foliage. / Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development

The Natchez Trace Parkway is known for its beautiful fall foliage. / Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development

Not to be outdone by our local city and state greenspaces, federally-maintained parks also provide excellent opportunity for local leisure activities and educational interests. One of the flagship parks in our area would be the Natchez Trace Parkway, a Federal Scenic Trail that runs from Natchez, Miss. to its zenith in Nashville. Many a hiker, camper, horseman, and picnicker has enjoyed the amenities along “the Trace,” as locals call it. A parkway closed to highway traffic, the Natchez Trace offers rare glimpses into history with its many stops along its path that portray beautiful views, important ecological material and historical markers. Information on Native American activities, early settlers’ involvement and frontier exploration is readily available on the Natchez Trace.

Fall Creek Falls, near Pikeville, Tenn., is one of the tallest waterfalls in the country. / Photo courtesy of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development

Fall Creek Falls, near Pikeville, Tenn., is one of the tallest waterfalls in the country. / Photo courtesy of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development

While the Trace offers camping facilities in its campgrounds, it is certainly not the only spot to camp in the Nashville area! One perennially popular spot is Fall Creek Falls State Park. First opened in the 1930s and officially begun as a state park in 1944, Fall Creek Falls State Park is the “grande dame” of Tennessee’s state parks.

“The park encompasses more than 26,000 acres sprawled across the eastern top of the rugged Cumberland Plateau. Laced with cascades, gorges, waterfalls, streams and lush stands of virgin hardwood timber, the park beckons those who enjoy nature at her finest. Fall Creek Falls, at 256 feet, is one of the highest waterfall in the eastern United States,” gushes their brochure. “The park is home to a variety of activities suitable for visitors of all ages and abilities. Hikers can opt for short or long walks around the lake and to the base of Fall Creek Falls. There are two long distance overnight trails for adventure-seeking visitors while the day-use trails are designed to accommodate recreational and educational activities for all ages. More than 34 miles of trails can be explored.” It is a safe bet to say that essentially every Nashvillian, from the first generation to the last generation, has enjoyed a visit to these beloved Falls.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this sampling of what exceptional outdoor activities and areas are within our midst here in Middle Tennessee. As Thoreau so wisely said, “Nature will bear the closest inspection; she invites us to lay our eye level with the smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. She has no interstices; every part is full of life.” We encourage you to take Thoreau’s advice and visit nature, right outside your own backdoor. Nashville indeed has truly remarkable greenspaces!

This story is available thanks to the sponsorship of Nissan North America