This week, I suggested to my walking group that we take a field trip to Centennial Park so we could see the finished product of a yearslong restoration project.
I had just received a news release from the parks department saying: “Construction signs are gone. Fences are down, and Phase Two renovations to the city’s most iconic green space, Centennial Park, are complete.”
After months — maybe years — of detouring around fences and blockades and being denied access to certain areas of the park, I wanted to see this popular park all opened up like it is supposed to be.
It was a picture-perfect day, and my walking pals were excited to take the 3-mile round-trip walk from our neighborhood to the park.
And once we walked the paths and strolled the new alleys to see what all had been improved or added as part of this public-private upgrade, we were duly impressed.
The $11 million Centennial Park restoration project may have taken longer than expected, but it was worth the wait. We all agreed that the finished product is stunning.
To stand back and gaze at the park’s centerpiece, the Parthenon, from the front of the park is worth a trip over.
Gone are the bristly shrubs that for many years obscured the full view of the Parthenon, as are the big old rusty cages with light fixtures that also distracted from the Parthenon’s beauty.
Now it is unobstructed, and what you see is pure Parthenon, in all of its glory.
Another big plus is that you can now drive into the park through a brand-new West End Avenue entrance.
The phase two upgrades to Nashville’s arguably favorite park include the new public entrance from West End, beautiful 20-foot-wide promenades leading up to the Parthenon, a reengineered great lawn in front of the Parthenon, the installation of the Woman Suffrage Monument, extensive landscaping and new LED lighting for the Parthenon.
The reengineering of the great lawn was a big part of the project, and it includes an elaborate underground drainage system and other improvements that make the 19-acre lawn in front of the Parthenon more durable and better able to bounce back after rains and large crowds for which the park is known.
“I hope everyone will take time to visit the park and enjoy its many amenities,” said Metro Parks Director Monique Odom, pointing to the “vibrant new lighting at the Parthenon” and the two walkways that flank the great lawn and were designed to accommodate tents and food trucks. The new promenades are lined with native hardwood shade trees and have low native crab orchard stone seating along the sides.
It is appropriate that the improvements are being unveiled as National Parks and Recreation Month begins.
Parks officials plan a celebration later this summer of the public-private project, which was funded by Metro Parks and the nonprofit Centennial Park Conservancy.
The Centennial Park restoration project has been in progress for years, following a master plan that was developed in 2010 during the Karl Dean administration and funded in previous years’ budgets by the city and the Conservancy.
The $9 million phase one focused on the front of the park, unearthing the Cockrill Spring, which now flows through that part of the park. It also created a dedicated space for Musicians Corner, added parking at the Parthenon and improved Lake Watauga. Interestingly, water from Cockrill Spring is used to water the park’s front lawn. And rainwater from the roof of the Parthenon drains into Lake Watauga to improve water quality.
Parks Planning Director Tim Netsch said the just completed phase two “captures the heart of Centennial Park around the great lawn and connects the work we completed in phase one at Cockrill Spring and at Lake Watauga.”
The new and improved park is definitely worth a visit. I know I will be a regular visitor.
About Centennial Park
The 132-acre Centennial Park has been a city park since 1903. It was the site of the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition, which featured a number of temporary structures, including a replica of the Parthenon. The permanent Parthenon that you see today was reconstructed in the 1920s and underwent a major renovation in 1990.
In addition to the Parthenon, Centennial Park has miles of walking trails, Lake Watauga, the band shell, the events shelter, Centennial Art Center, a sunken garden and a performing arts center.
With phase two complete, park and conservancy officials still have plans for a children’s memory garden and an event pavilion, as well as improvements to the band shell.
About The Parthenon
According to the Parthenon website, “The Parthenon in Nashville is the world’s only exact-size and detail replica of the original temple in Athens, Greece. When Tennessee celebrated its hundredth year of statehood with the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, Nashville took advantage of its nickname ‘Athens of the South’ and built the art building as a copy of Athens’ most famous building and the epitome of Greek classical architecture. Although built to be temporary, as were all the buildings of the Centennial, the Parthenon crystallized for Nashvillians their image of themselves and their city and they were loathe to tear it down at the conclusion of the exposition.”
Parthenon admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors 62 and older and children 3-17.