Get Outside: Nature Is A Cheap Date

Besides the mental, physical, and spiritual benefits of being out in nature there is the benefit to your wallet. Nature can be a very cheap date, and the over 99 miles of greenways in Nashville are certainly that. For the low, low cost of walking, biking, or driving to the nearest one you will most likely have close access to one of the eight major water corridors along which they run.


The origin of greenways goes back to the 19th Century park-planning era which afforded access to open spaces close to where urban dwellers lived. These days, you might pass close to residential backyards, a golf course, or a major water treatment plant. You might hear the roar of traffic, however, very soon you might be surrounded by woods or pastures, or close to a rushing river or creek. Towhees, cardinals, wrens, bluebirds, chickadees and more tweet and warble as you amble along. Under a rock overhang along the Stones River, we came face to face with a ground hog.


Depending on the time and day of the week you might be alone or have plenty of company. Unfortunately, many of the bikers are unaware that the greenways are not raceways, and that road manners dictate that they call out “on your left” as they pass. Ah, well, even Eden had its serpents so beware.


Recently, we explored much of the ten miles of the Stones River Greenway which has seven trailheads and connects Shelby Bottoms to the J. Percy Priest Dam and the Cumberland River Pedestrian bridge. Across the street from the J. Percy Priest Dam trailhead is a ranger station which interestingly is closed Saturday and Sunday. On a beautiful recent Sunday along a stretch of the 213 miles of shoreline, several families were grilling, and a gentleman preparing to picnic on the shore told us that it would be wall to wall people once everyone got there after church. Nearby, a family lazed, without life jackets in a raft. Given the potential for danger, my catastrophizing self wondered, “Why no rangers?”


The trailhead has restrooms and a large dog park as well as, of course, proximity to the powerful dam which annually generates 70 million kilowat-hours of electricity (the average American household consumes 10,632 kilowat-hours per year.) It also contributes to flood control in the Cumberland Valley. At the Heartland trailhead there is

a sign which indicates the height the waters reached in the May 2010 flood when a record 13.5 inches of rain fell in two days causing the river to crest at 52.5 feet. The Army Corps of Engineers has speculated that had there been no dams to control the river, it could have crested as much as five feet higher.


The five-mile-long Richland Creek Greenway, though far more congested, meanders through woods connecting Sylvan Park to Cherokee Park and offered a surprise history lesson to this transplant. At the White Bridge Road trailhead are a couple of relics from the 1918 train wreck that occurred there at Dutchman’s Curve. Caused by human error, in a Belle Meade zip code no less, it was one of the worst railroad accidents in United States history with 101 fatalities and 171 injuries. It also makes for one of those dreaded math problems with one train leaving Nashville headed for Memphis while the other was coming from Memphis and had passed Bellevue thirty-five minutes behind schedule. The accident occurred where one section of the route was single track.


The 9.8-mile Mill Creek Greenway follows the creek and provides access to a playground, a community garden, schools, soccer fields, picnic areas, and more. It’s quite flat for the most part which is great for bike riding with children. On different outings we’ve seen herons, snakes, and deer, and have been told that in some parts one can easily catch crayfish. Or do you say crawfish? Or crawdad? Unfortunately, some parts have trash along the trail and by the water’s edge.


Happily, there are more greenways being planned or already under construction including one that will link the Stones River Greenway to Opry Mills. Plans to extend the 440 Greenway are also underway. When complete its seven miles will be part of the planned 35-mile-long City Central Greenway, a loop that will encircle the core of Nashville and connect it to surrounding neighborhoods. Maybe if we can’t get the major public transportation figured out, we can become a biking city like Amsterdam.


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