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Park Conversations: Radnor Lake State Park, Nashville, TN

Let’s talk about parks! Since we’re asking you to share your stories about parks you’ve visited, I figured I’d get the ball rolling and show you the kind of information we’re looking for. We’re interested in learning the details of what makes a park experience positive, negative, or just interesting, so that our master planning process can harvest great ideas from around the country.

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A chipmunk on the main drag. If you visit when it’s drizzling, you may have the place to yourself!

Radnor Lake State Park, Nashville, TN
April & May 2018
Melissa McMasters (Overton Park Conservancy’s Director of Communications)

What was the main reason for your visit?
I visited this park, which is legendary with birdwatchers, a few times this spring. The first was to tally species for iNaturalist’s City Nature Challenge since Memphis wasn’t participating. The second time, I met a friend for a weekend in the city and visited the park on my way in and out of Nashville.

What else did you end up doing while you were there?
I just walked and took photos.

How long did you stay?
All of my visits were about 90 minutes long.

Did you buy anything while you were there?

A bay-breasted warbler right in front of me.

What did you like or dislike about your park experience?
First of all, the birding was as amazing as advertised. Radnor Lake is known as a migrant trap, which means that large numbers of birds on their spring journey north stop there to rest and eat. There were warblers two feet from my face, which is not something I generally experience in Overton Park–I don’t know the reason for this, but around here the birds make me work hard for my photos!

One thing that really stood out to me was that because Radnor is a state park, they are able to pay for rangers to enforce the park rules and to offer information. Dogs are only allowed on paved trails, and only on leash; the natural trails through the woods are pedestrian-only. Unlike in any city park I’ve ever visited, I never saw anyone disobeying either of these rules at Radnor, and it made an incredible difference in my experience. I got to focus on enjoying the beautiful spring scenery instead of worrying about being jumped on by a dog or stepping in something unpleasant. The rangers are a friendly but firm presence, and when they saw someone sliding down the bank to sit on a tree, they nicely asked them to return to the trail. Other rangers were standing along the trails with scopes, sharing looks at a ruby-throated hummingbird on her nest.

Great blue heron at Radnor Lake

Overton Park isn’t the only place that struggles with how to accommodate its popularity. There are small parking lots at the main west entrance and the east entrance at Radnor Lake, and overflow parking along the main paved trail. On one visit, the main area was full. You can’t drive through the park interior (which I think is a good thing), so I drove the 12 minutes around the park perimeter to the east lot. I imagine those 12 minutes would cause some folks to give up and come back another day. The main/west entrance is accessed through a wealthy neighborhood, and the streets have signs up forbidding Radnor Lake visitors from parking there. If you back out of the neighborhood, you find yourself on a busy street with no parking, so if you miss out on a space in the lot, you’re out of luck. I didn’t notice a lot of infrastructure for cyclists or public transit in the area, although I may just have missed it.

Basically: if you’re lucky enough to get there on a gorgeous day like I experienced, the experience is wonderful. And not just because the birds are polite! It’s a well-maintained space and the staff and rangers clearly take a lot of pride in their work.