Have you been to Centennial Park lately? Nashville’s 120-year-old treasure is in the midst of a revitalization that will not only allow it to remain a beautiful and functional space for generations to come but will position it as an example of community stewardship and landscape innovation. Construction of the $30 million second phase of the park’s improvements will begin this fall, initial improvements are ready for all to enjoy. Phase One, which was completed in June 2015 and held a $9 million price tag, included dredging, cleaning and aerating Lake Watauga, the construction of a permanent outdoor performance venue for Musicians Corner, opening an artisanal fresh spring and the reorganization of roadways and parking around the Parthenon.
The park’s biggest asset, however, revolves around its greatest natural resource — water. In fact, the discovery of Cockrill Spring, which had been buried for more than 100 years, shaped park renovations and is responsible for making Centennial Park the first sustainable, water-neutral park in the state.
“It was a complete game changer,” says Sylvia Rapoport, president of the non-profit Conservancy for the Parthenon and Centennial Park, which raises funds for park projects. “It very much directed the new design.”
As Rapoport explains, a Metro Parks groundskeeper helped landscape architect Thomas Woltz and his team locate the source of the spring three years ago. The spring, which had been a watering stop for travelers along the Natchez Trace since the 18th century, was buried and diverted to a sewer during an 1850 cholera epidemic. (Cholera is a bacterial disease typically spread through contaminated water.) In 2014, The Conservancy and Metro Parks, along with then-Mayor Karl Dean, removed the cover at the base of Cockrill Spring and officially launched the construction effort to “daylight” the historic spring that produces a minimum of 200 gallons of clean, clear water every minute.
“It led the way to design water channels and rills for children to play in and where people could cool their heels,” Rapoport says, adding that the water is a refreshing 56 degrees all year round. “And all of a sudden, we had a beautiful water feature near West End.” Running water creates a pleasing sound, and water itself offers a space for reflection and respite.
In addition to providing a fun and picturesque water feature in the plaza near the park entrance, water from Cockrill Spring is used to irrigate the park, making outside sources unnecessary, and supplies clean water to Lake Watauga, which, among other things, is home to Centennial Park’s beloved ducks.
“The fact that we are water-neutral and that we’re on the trajectory to be SITES-certified is pretty amazing considering no one knew exactly where the spring was until three years ago,” Rapoport says.
The Conservancy and Metro Parks applied for certification under the Sustainable Sites Initiative, also known as SITES. A voluntary, third-party rating system, SITES recognizes sustainable landscapes that help reduce water demand, filter and reduce storm water runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality and human health and increase recreation opportunities. Cockrill Spring’s contributions to the park, however, aren’t the only water-related improvements that help bolster Centennial Park as a viable candidate for SITES certification. The first phase of improvements also called for the creation of rain gardens that cleanse storm water runoff from the Parthenon roof and nearby parking lot before it enters the lake, as well as the installation of floating vegetated wetland islands that absorb pollutants in Lake Watauga and enable a better habitat for wildlife. Rapoport says Centennial Park will be the first city-owned park in the state to be certified under the newest version of the SITES program if its application is approved.
But that’s not the only excitement buzzing about the park these days, no pun intended. Centennial Park is also home to a couple of bee hives. A few years ago, Sue and Douglas Joyce donated the hives to the park, and Tara Armistead contributed a queen bee. The hives, which are on Lake Watauga’s island, tucked away from park visitors, are thriving, Rapoport says. They are key to pollinating existing plants, as well as new trees and shrubs being planted throughout the renovation. But there’s an additional bee-related goal that Rapoport says she and park officials hope to realize once the bees are even more established.
“We are just convinced we’ll be able to sweeten our lives with Centennial Park Conservancy Honey one day,” Rapoport says. “Wouldn’t that be amazing?”
The Conservancy’s mission is to preserve, enhance and share the Parthenon and Centennial Park so that all future generations may benefit from these enriching cultural and educational landmarks. The Centennial Park Revitalization will transform this irreplaceable space into a model of sustainable ecological practice and horticultural excellence, accommodating modern uses that will both honor the park’s history and ensure it stands the test of time.
If you’d like to support the efforts of The Conservancy for the Parthenon and Centennial Park, visit pictureyourpark.com.
This article is sponsored by The Conservancy for the Parthenon and Centennial Park.