Over the past couple decades, the movement within the U.S. to development greenways in and near urban areas has really picked up steam. Merriam-Webster describes a greenway as "a corridor of undeveloped land preserved for recreational use or environmental protection." All over Davidson County in recent years we have witnessed this very type of preservation from Old Hickory Dam to Downtown Nashville to Ellington Agricultural Complex. In this final installment of FW's where-to-run-in-Nashville series, I will be discussing my favorite trail of Nashville's greenway system, the one I love to run the most, the Harpeth River Greenway.
The Morton Mill Trailhead, located by Old Harding Road in Bellevue, is where we'll begin our journey. This trailhead is just across the street from Harpeth Valley Golf Center, where there is additional Greenway parking in an adjacent lot. You have two options at this point: head left along the marshy bank of a large pond on a trail that runs parallel to Morton Mill Road and eventually the Harpeth River; or turn right on a trail that goes under Old Harding and toward Highway 100. And as Yogi Berra once famously said, "when you come to a fork in the road, take it." You can't go wrong either way.
First, we'll head left on the shorter of the two journeys. This paved trail juts through the tall grasses along the pond then down through woods on a shady path next to the river. During summer, this section of the trail provides a welcome respite from the often brutal Tennessee heat.
After reemerging from the woods, you'll find yourself back alongside Morton Mill Road, heading up a brief incline before traversing a long, steady descent, ending in a small neighborhood a quarter of a mile down below. You will also notice remnants of farmland, reminding one of how, not too long ago, this was rural area as far as the eye can see. Now, turn around where the neighborhood dead-ends by the railroad tracks and head back toward the hill, attacking the long ascent this time. Try to kick things into another gear as you head back up. As American long-distance runner Frank Shorter once said, "Hills are speedwork in disguise." When all is said and done, you will have repeated the journey back through the woods alongside the Harpeth and returned to your starting point at Morton Mill Trailhead for a total of 2.9 miles.
Next, we explore the other direction, the one that eventually ends roughly 4.5 miles later at Woolwine Trailhead in Edwin Warner Park.
After going under the Old Harding bridge you will wind the path along the golf range for a mile or so before arriving at one of the coolest pedestrian bridges around. This rustic gem takes you over the Harpeth River and sends you propelling through a large open field exploding with tall grasses and wildflowers that it's hard to believe still exists in the booming metropolis we Nashvillians call home.
At the end of the open field you will find the Harpeth Bend neighborhood. This large tract of late 1960s to 1980s era one-story homes was hit very hard during the Great Flood of 2010. (One look at the map below, showing its close proximity to the Harpeth River, and it is no wonder why.) The Harpeth Bend connector is exactly 1.77 miles from the Morton Mill Trailhead. So, if you choose you can turn around here and head back for a little over 3.5-mile run.
On the eastern edge of the neighborhood, the trail lies nestled between the backyards of homes and the river. This is another area of the trail with wonderful shade ideal for summer runs. The backyards get steeper and steeper and finally the neighborhood fades out of sight as you near the next trailhead by the Bellevue Exchange Club. The Bellevue Exchange Club is home to a large baseball/softball complex and an inline hockey rink managed by Youth Incorporated Inline Hockey. Every Saturday of the spring and fall, this area is bustling with athletes of all ages and the friends and family members who support them. The stretch of trail connecting Harpeth Bend and Bellevue Exchange Club adds another .78 miles to your journey.
If you are beginning to think you might just try doing the whole thing, you should be pleased to know that you are over halfway there! Next, the trail makes a sharp turn toward the south, taking you under highway 100 near the bridge, spitting you out on the other side of the highway alongside the southern border of Ensworth High School's campus. This stretch of the trip continues on, all the way to the edge of Edwin Warner Park, covering another 1.13 miles.
Finally, the greenway takes you due north, between the Ensworth campus and Edwin Warner Park. (If you have never done so, please take a good look at Ensworth as you pass by; it is as nice [or nicer] as some area colleges!) This section along the eastern edge of the campus is exactly 1 mile long. It stops at Woolwine Trailhead, and this is the end of the line! You can see each section of the Harpeth River Trail described above here with exact mileages and other landmarks of interest. Just zoom in on these interactive Google maps and explore. Or better yet, go visit the greenway yourself and see if it isn't every bit as lovely and invigorating as I have described it. I am fairly confident you will agree.