One of the marvelous advantages we have as women is the chance to reinvent ourselves when the itch presents itself. The notion of creating a whole new you is what attracted us to Renee Bates’ story. Renee is best known as the director of Greenways for Nashville, yet in January, she heard a little bird say, “It’s time to move on.” Take a minute and read her fascinating journey from director of one of Nashville’s most popular not-for-profit entities to artist in residence.
You are best known for your work as director of Greenways for Nashville. Can you tell us about the job?
It’s funny, because I have always been a nature girl, and that love is what first attracted me to Greenways for Nashville. I began as a board member and then helped raise money via Greenways for Nashville, so that more people could have a greener experience.
When Jane Laub left as director, I accepted her position. Nashville’s greenways are so important to the viability of Nashville going forward. When I started, there were about 40 miles of paved trails; now there are 80 miles. In Davidson County, there are over 190 miles of trails. Also, we established two of Nashville’s most popular events—the Richland Creek 5K Run and Dinner on the Bridge.
Believe it or not, when the Greenways began, we had to educate citizens on what a greenway was. Now everyone wants them, so the challenge is to conserve the corridors that connect us via greenways.
It’s been said that the Percy Warner Park system is a jewel in Nashville’s crown. Do you agree?
It is amazing, and with the recent addition of the 496 acres of the Burch Reserve, the total Warner Park acreage is up to 3,180. Metro Parks and Friends of Warner Parks has done a tremendous job there. Greenways for Nashville was fortunate to help Metro in the east by providing seed funds for purchasing the 600-acre Lytle Farm along the Stones River Greenway in 2012, adding to the 135 acres of the Ravenwood golf course land. For a map of Nashville’s Greenways, click here.
You obviously loved your job, yet in January you resigned. What happened?
It’s funny. My mom recently passed away, and rather than grieve the loss of my best friend, I jumped right back into work. But on the inside, I felt empty and somewhat restless. One of the things my mom and I loved to do was go birding. She was a country girl from Dickson and never tired of discovering the beauty of birds, especially wood thrushes. She was so grounded in nature. When we would see a hawk, she would say, “Oh, I do love the fowl.” So on a whim, I went to Monteagle to take an art class with Kim Barrick. I have always been a creative type, having gone to Watkins and pursuing interior decorating.
While on the mountain, not only did I discover a buried passion of mine, painting, but I was also able to connect with my mom, spiritually. There was a wood thrush who was by my side and sang the entire time. Then I understood that it was time to pursue painting on a full-time basis.
Wow! How is it going?
I am a student of art, a real sponge right now. I have studied with Anne Blair Brown and Charles Brindley, both accomplished artists. Also, I have joined the Chestnut Group, a group of passionate and extraordinary Nashville artists. In February, I sold my first painting. For more of Renee’s works, click here.
Who would you consider one of your first mentors?
The person who comes to mind is Bob Donahue with Beltone Hearing Aid Center. I worked full time in high school and, as a result, was voted best dressed because I went to work every day after school. Bob was my boss, and taught me the basics of business. I went from office girl to sales to hearing aid audiologist. Williamson County was my territory, and so many older people have gorgeous gardens and bird feeders. It was in this job that I discovered my love of birds.
Another mentor is Shain Dennison, Metro Greenways and Open Space director, who taught me about good communications and navigating government.
Speaking of gardens, your garden is simply gorgeous. Is that another passion?
My husband owns Bates Nursery, and yes, my garden is quite special. You may not know it, but Bates is in the Whites Creek area, which is a lovely setting and holds a special place in my heart.
Nashville is going through some dramatic growth. What do you think is important going forward?
So many young people are moving into Nashville, and their attraction is the vibrancy of the city. For the most part, this is fueled by the connectivity of the city. Every mayor since Phil Bredesen has supported neighborhoods and more green space. Also, retaining our welcoming neighborhoods is critical in light of growth and tearing down homes to increase density. It is a tricky situation and somewhat controversial. Yet we have to retain our historical character. I am not against development and support infill where we have infrastructure.
Is there an event in Nashville you are looking forward to?
Of course, it is Dinner on the Bridge that benefits the Greenways for Nashville. It happens each fall, and where else can you enjoy a meal overlooking the Cumberland River?
When you are looking for a fun night out in Nashville, where do you go?
My husband David and I are foodies. We recently went to Prima and had an amazing meal. It’s gorgeous inside with impeccable service. Anything that Deb Paquette cooks, we love, so Etch is a favorite. Can’t wait until she opens her new restaurant in Sylvan Park.
Do you have any irrational fears?
Oh, yes! Heights. There is a visceral fear effect—my calves tingle when I get close to the edge. I enjoy the view immensely, just a few feet back.
What book is on your nightstand?
The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman.
Where is your favorite place to go birding?
Beaman Park and Radnor Lake, because the water attracts so many varieties of birds. Also, I found a wonderful new app called iBird pro. You can identify birds and their unique sounds. It drives cats crazy, but it is so fun. Also, Cornell University has a great site—AllAboutBirds.org
What are three things you can’t live without?
- Laughter (My husband David is an ever-abundant source.)
- And, there is a tie for Dulce’s buttercream frosted cakes and Corner Market’s cream cheese brownie. YUM!
Thanks, Renee! And, special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s fabulous photos!