You've hiked the Warners, ridden your bike through Shelby and sunned yourself on the lawn at Centennial. You know Nashville's crown jewel parks, and now you're looking for something a little different. Here are the 10 you should not miss.
Northwest Davidson County has long had a reputation for being a little wild. If the legends didn't have you in danger from Indians, you were in danger from armed runaway slaves, moonshiners and other folks who don't take kindly to strangers. The park matches the stories about the people — tough, severe and utterly enchanting. If you wanted to get a feel for what Davidson County looked like when Timothy Demonbreun arrived, start here.
Imagine having the run of an old farm. There are creeks to splash in, deer-tracked trails to explore, antique barns to admire. Overhead hawks circle, and when the songbirds catch sight of them, a hush falls over the whole park, broken only by the lowing of an unseen cow. When you're done at the park, you can sit on the porch of the old country store and eat ice cream. Now imagine you don't have to go clear to Williamson County for it.
Nashville's newest park has had a few bumps. (Or should I say caused a few bumps?) It's been open and then closed for safety modifications and then open again. Don't let this frighten you off. The park is a beautiful, whimsical love letter to Nashville and the Cumberland River. Plenty for kids to do, great views of downtown, and a stunning wildflower garden — it's a great park for the whole family.
Up until a few years ago, you could prove how Nashville you were by giving directions to the Cumberland Science Center that included, "Turn where there used to be that restoration of where Fort Negley used to be." The original fort crumbled over a century ago. The WPA restored it, but then the restoration fell into ruin as well. Finally, we restored it a second time and this appears to have stuck. Not only should this be the first stop for any Civil War buffs, it's a must-see park for all Nashvillians.
The only drawback to Hadley Park is that you know it could have as many interpretive signs as Centennial Park telling you all about the interesting things that have happened here, and it doesn't. You will, however, find rolling hills, great playground equipment, old shady trees and picnic tables and grills people actually use. If you don't feel like cooking, you could get carry-out from nearby Swett's and bring it with you.
If you know about this park, it's because you're a mountain biking enthusiast. Otherwise, this is one of the best-kept secrets in the park system — an enormous park on the edge of Percy Priest Lake devoted to trails for mountain biking. The thing that sticks with me about this park is that it was filled with the friendliest, happiest-looking people of any park in Nashville. People here are doing what they love, and it shows.
Back behind a low stone wall behind the Baptist World Center, this park doesn't look like much from the street. But for history buffs, this park is like getting to rummage around in Nashville's basement. Here's where Eaton's Station was, where bison (and probably mastodon) crossed the river, where the timber that was cleared out of Trinity Hills was lowered by track to the water, and where you can go and marvel at all the curious ruins. This isn't a particularly safe park — it's like a neglected basement, so take a buddy and a cell phone — but it's well worth it.
This little gem out at the end of Pennington Bend has nautical-themed playground equipment, a mysterious old house, and benches that look like tiny Stonehenges that you can sit on and watch the river roll by. I repeat, benches that look like tiny Stonehenges. Who could resist?
If you don't look too closely, this could be a nice urban park in any American city. It's the kind of place where people in suits stop to sip their coffee in the morning. But if you do look around, you can't help but see that the whole park is devoted to telling the story of Nashville. There are maps and timelines and facts, all delivered in stone and water.
Hands down some of the best people watching in town. The playground is always full of kids, the tennis courts packed with players, and the soccer field full of either soccer players or people with their dogs. There's an antebellum home with interesting outbuildings, a beautiful creek, and plenty of trees. This may be the perfect neighborhood park.
Nashville is full of great parks, and this list is by no means comprehensive. Picking almost any park — there are only a few duds — and setting out to explore it is going to be well worth your time.
For more information on all of Nashville's parks, go to nashvillescene.com/parkreviews.
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