Uniquely located in sprawling Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County, Radnor Lake State Natural Area is an 1,100-acre park designed to include only foot trails for passive recreation and educational purposes. In the midst of Nashville’s fast-paced development, this site remains an island of serenity and beauty.
The first landowners in the park area arrived in the late 1770s. James Mulharrin and John Buchanan received Revolutionary War land grants, where they surveyed the land and built frontier stations. Mulharrin soon sold his grant to Revolutionary War veteran Alexander Campbell (this tract is now under water in the approximate middle of Radnor Lake). By the mid-1830s settlers had brought the rugged hills under cultivation and began timbering operations.
On the eve of the Civil War, Burwell Lazenby owned the majority of the current park land. Lazenby methodically gathered, conserved, and preserved documents pertaining to the original land acquisition and unwittingly provided a valuable source for modern investigation of the cultural history of the area. During Lazenby’s ownership, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad became interested in the land and around 1910 the Lazenby family sold its property to the railroad.
The long, high valley bisected by Otter Creek provided the natural elevation the railroad needed to create a reservoir to provide water to the nearby Radnor Yards. A drop of 185 feet from the lake to the yards 4.9 miles away created a natural gravity water flow piping system. In 1919 one million gallons of water per day began flowing from Radnor Lake reservoir to maintain the railroad’s over-the-road operations. The lake provided water for steam engines, equipment maintenance, and stockyards.
Waterfowl quickly adapted to the beautiful lake, and the Tennessee Ornithological Society found the area an instant viewing platform for native and migratory birds. A young Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad employee became an avid bird watcher. His records of weather, dating, and wildlife sighting provided the data for the Tennessee Ornithological Society’s 1926 petition to the railroad to make Radnor Lake a natural wildlife preserve. The railroad officials concurred and made the designation.
By 1957 the use of diesel fuel had led to the demise of steam-driven trains, and the railroad terminated its use of Radnor Lake. In 1962 the L&N sold 773 acres of the Radnor Lake properties to a private individual. During the 1970s, planned development threatened the fragile wildlife environment and diverse ecosystems around Radnor Lake. Individuals, businesses, and state and federal agencies worked together to save Radnor Lake. In August 1973 the State of Tennessee purchased 747 acres of the Radnor Lake property. Since then, as smaller properties have become available, they have been added to the park.
Radnor Lake features seven miles of walking trails around and above the 85-acre lake. The Lake Trail winds beneath deciduous forests and through fields filled with a diversity of native plants and wildflowers. A high elevation Ridge Trail commands a spectacular view of downtown Nashville. Time spent here can be likened to a visit in an outdoor museum where both aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna are experienced in their natural environments.
The park provides environmental education programs. Park rangers and interpretive specialists conduct ecology walks and guide field trips. The visitor’s center presents an audiovisual program and provides space for an interpretive display of artifacts depicting the cultural history of Radnor Lake.