This is the third installment in William Harwood's series on Nashville's park system.
The trees encountered on a country stroll
Reveal a lot about a country’s soul.
Disquieting news, y’all – a bunch of ash holes have moved in along Nashville’s most famous stretch of trail, Tornado Ridge in Percy Warner Park. Among the intermittent blazes of red, marking the route for runners and hikers and walkers of woofies in woods, are all but ubiquitous blotches of blue, marking the trees – all of them ashes – marked for death. Distinctive, D-shaped holes, each the perfect size to sheath a pencil’s eraser, encase the culprits: emerald ash borers, invasive beetles native to northeastern Asia. Having only shown up in Metro Nashville in 2014, they are now expected within the next few years to reduce our county’s canopy by 10% single-handedly – or six-leggedly as the case may be. Ugh.
But blaming the bugs, of course, is a copout. We’re all smart enough to know who the true ash holes of this story are. To paraphrase the great philosopher Pogo, when it comes to ultimate responsibility for the deep environmental, economic, and aesthetic damage inflicted upon our woods and wilds by the introduction of invasive species, we have met the ash holes and they are us. From English ivy to Chinese privet, from Japanese stiltgrass to Tree of heaven, from Bush honeysuckle to those big, brittle pieces of living dung called Bradford pears, people – and generally in complete ignorance but at times in active complicity – have done the invasives’ work for them, serving as their vectors in much the same way that northward advancing armadillos crossing roads – or not – can serve as leprosy’s vectors.
Full disclosure: During the mid-80s while working as a high school landscaper, I planted scores of Bradford pears in close proximity to Radnor and Warner parks for $3.35 an hour, money I mostly used to buy beer with my fake ID. I am sincerely sorry.
But must all things invasive be bad? After all, invasive procedures can sometimes save lives and honeysuckle smells good on a hot, summer day. Perhaps a bit of etymology can elucidate. The word ‘invasive’ comes to us via Old French invasif by way of Medieval Latin’s invasivus. While the connotation of the term means clearly to attack – and presumably to conquer as well – the denotation simply means an ‘in-walking,’ in + vadere. In other words, in its etymological essence, invasiveness isn’t by definition pejorative and invasive experiences aren’t limited to such unpleasantries as charging Nazi tanks, extending ranges of ticks, intrusions of soul-sucking thoughts or sights or sounds, or to any other kind of Faulknerian corn cob moment. Invasive is a double-edged word, cutting both ways, negative and positive, and sometimes an ‘in-walking’ can be just what the doctor ordered.
But, to derive the most benefit, an ‘in-walking’ to where? To answer that, we turn to ART, Attentional Restoration Theory. First posited by Kaplan and Kaplan as recently as 1989 and subsequently confirmed by peer-reviewed science, ART holds that allowing ourselves to experience the “soft fascinations'' replete in natural settings – say deep green cedars growing all but directly from solid limestone, or Halloween orange (and deliciously edible) chicken of the woods mushrooms fruiting from the roots of an old growth oak – provides not just mental restoration, but positive and measurable psychological and medical outcomes as well.
In other words, to ARTfully reap the benefits of nature and to reach the happy hunting grounds for life-guiding epiphanies, we must take the first steps of an ‘in-walking’ into the most pristine places possible, though not as vectors but as vessels. Here, within such natural citadels where an ancient vibrancy best endures, the slow fascinations flow at their most vitally viscous and we – if we allow ourselves to be – are restored in body, mind and spirit, ready to return to world of noise with our freshly cast sword of Signal.
To rearm your own being, here are Nashville’s most pristine places to ARTfully in vadere. Enter with reverence in your heart and lightness in your soles and come back both flushed and fulfilled. Happy healing, y’all.
5) Peeler Park & Taylor Farm
With the recent addition of the Taylor Farm property, Peeler’s packing some 650 acres of Cumberland River peninsula known as Neely’s Bend. While not the biggest arrow in the Nashville park quiver, Peeler does feature 8 miles of equestrian trails if you’re down for a little horse play. There’s also a boat ramp for river access, two miles of paved, multi-use path and, perhaps most badass of all, primitive campsites. Consider having your next wild night in Nashville here.
4) Hamilton Creek
Located along the Percy Priest Reservoir, Hamilton Creek has the amenities one would expect of a park by a lake: a playground, a marina, a boat ramp. However, it also has a couple of other features most would not expect: mountain bike trails on the one hand, and access to a highly unique ecosystem on the other. Called a cedar glade, Hamilton Creek lies next to 790 acres leased from the Corps of Engineers, giving the glade federal protection. The habitat is marked by very thin to nonexistent topsoil, yet still home to native cedars and to a number of plant species found nowhere else such as the limestone fame flower, a little purple and yellow gift from the ground that only blooms for an afternoon before dying. If lucky enough to ever be in the cedar glade when one is in bloom, take in your slow fascination quickly.
3) Bells Bend
At over 800 acres, Bells Bend provides plenty of space for slow fascinations to flow. Located at the tip of a peninsula formed by the Cumberland, the pastoral park with its extensive meadow could easily be mistaken for a working farm, complete with an old barn still standing. Because of its location, and because there is no bridge over the river there, Bells Bend is a place of solitude where native species of birds almost always far outnumber the amount of people present. Bells is perfect for poets and musicians who wish to sit quietly and listen by the river to the songs that nature sings.
2) Beaman Park
With some fifteen miles of clearly marked, single-track trails, and God knows how many miles more of old fire and logging roads, Beaman is THE place to set your own pace and just let the slow fascinations keep on coming. All of its ample 2,170 acres is Highland Rim, most of it a Designated State Natural Area under Tennessee Natural Heritage Program, and a trek through Beaman will entail some steep slopes and creek crossings, every step of it worth the effort. Native species still predominate here, including, full disclosure, timber rattlers and copperheads, both of which this writer has seen there, up close and personal. But watch your step and you’ll be fine. Also, consider bringing a yoga mat for a bit of post-hike stretching. Beaman features a lofty wooden deck in the surrounding canopy, built upon a hill that drops off steeply. Some rocking chairs are already there. Just take a seat and slowly fascinate away.
1) Warner Old Growth
Nashville has a rare treasure that wasn’t rare at all when some of its own oak trees were born more than two hundred years ago, a stand of old growth forest. That’s right. A city park in a major urban center has 225 acres of land that has never been logged. It’s called the Hill Forest and was acquired in a 2009 acquisition campaign by Friends of Warner Parks. Due to its vulnerability to any number of human stupidities, access is limited to guided hikes by appointment. However, to get a sense of the ancient, the adjoining Burch Reserve with two miles of single-track trail through stands of enormous trees is there and ready to welcome all who come with humble hearts to lightly and ARTfully tread.
Visit the Warner Old Growth: More Info
If ornithology is your thing, then Shelby Bottoms is your scene. Big enough to get lost in, but always close enough to the Cumberland to recalibrate your bearings in case you do, this nearly three-mile-long stretch of land along the river just minutes from downtown is an ideal spot to escape the flock of folks pecking at you for this and that and to just stroll with the flow for a while and bird out a bit. Slow fascinations, Shelby style, have recently featured the sounds and sightings of a Northern Flicker, an American Kestrel, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. So bring your life list and ARTfully hike along the park’s 1,200ish acres of hardwoods and wetlands and floodplains. Chances are, you’ll feel much feather real soon.
Radnor is a state park, not a Metro Nashville park. It’s also a protected natural area, meaning that the slow fascinations to be absorbed here really are slow. Running, for example, on the park’s 7 plus miles of trails is banned. This makes the park perfect for those wanting to watch the waterfowl on Radnor Lake or hike the Ganier Ridge Trail, offering the highest point in Davidson County at 1,163 feet.
This is the third installment in William Harwood's series on Nashville's park system.