By Bailey Robbins
‘Tis the season for love. Or rather, ‘tis the season for lacing up a pair of tennis shoes and running to a serene place far, far away from all the love letters, heart-themed teddy bears and sweet-nothing inspired giggles that Valentine’s Day manages to bring along.
Though Murfreesboro — which is sparsely hilled and more urban than rural — tends to be the odd-city-out when it comes to finding the ideal, outdoorsy getaway experience, one place is tucked inside of town, where the only sound of lovers’ chatter emits from the birds. Meet Barfield Crescent Park.
Located off South Church Street on Veteran’s Parkway, the park, which is better known for its ball fields, picnic areas, playgrounds, horseshoe pits, disc golf course, tetherball and volleyball court, also has a tranquil, unique side.
Beyond a wall of trees, a remaining 300 acres provides an area for those looking for a breath of fresh air and a bit more space. With nearly seven miles of paved and unpaved hiking trails, a dozen campsites and the Wilderness Station that organizes both nature-based and adventure-based activities, quiet-seekers have found a match.
“We still get a ton of people coming in here saying, ‘Oh, I had lived in Murfreesboro all my life and had no idea this was back here.’ And, we’ve heard that all along,” said Rachel Singer, the program coordinator of the Wilderness Station. “At the beginning you were expected to hear that, but now, being 14 years into this, and we still hear that. So, it’s really neat when people first discover us, and they come back for more.”
Hiking from the heart, for the heart
At the mouth of the paved hiking trail, an immediate hill that might require some people to slouch forward and walk awkwardly up the steep incline beckons adventure-seekers. Afterward, it’s smooth sailing.
Hikers can go in one of three directions. The first option will wind up at the Wilderness Station. The final two options will eventually take the trail-walker to the campsites or, if chosen, the west fork of Stones River.
“I think Murfreesboro is so lucky to have this park,” Singer said. “When you start comparing other cities that are the size of Murfreesboro, most cities don’t have a facility like this or a trail system like this.”
Unlike the greenway, all things that whiz by on wheels are forbidden on the paved trails. So, there is no fear of flatten toes or side-swept clothes.
Behind the Wilderness Station, three unpaved trails – Marshall Knob, Valley View and Rocky Path trail – are for those craving a small dose of thrill. It can be somewhat strenuous, for those not accustomed to hopping between rocks and up at a steep incline. In the end, each trail has something visually different to offer.
For instance, the Marshall Knob trail is the longest at approximately three miles and levels out at a point where a rock wall can be seen for long distance.
“We don’t have any definite answer,” Singer said about the wall’s origins. “There’s been some historical people say [it’s from] the Civil War and that people used that area as an overlook because it wasn’t grown up as much, and they could see a long way toward Shelbyville. Whether they built the fence or not, that’s kind of debatable.”
An adventure with a helping hand
A deeper interaction with the park can be found through the environmental education and outdoor adventure programs.
“We offer a lot of environmental education programs that are more nature-based like themed hikes [about] mammals and birds and reptiles,” the program coordinator said. “And then, the other part of it is the outdoor adventure. So, we offer a lot of camping groups … [like] family campouts that are staffed. Basically, it’s kind of for beginner backpackers, so we try to make it as easy as possible.”
The outdoor adventure programs often go beyond the park, where camping, kayaking and canoeing trips are offered in warmer months.
“The thing that I like about us — that I think makes us unique — is that we do offer both the environmental educational program and the adventure program,” Singer said proudly. “I kind of feel like some places that are similar to us might just do one or the other.”
Building relationships based on passion
If lacing up tennis shoes to get away on a cold February day aren’t in the cards, the vacant footwear will still have an opportunity to see all that the park has to provide in the months to come.
“I love all the seasons out here,” Singer said passionately. “Every season offers something different. In the spring, all the wildflower popping up is a neat time. The animals are nesting and breeding and being more active … Summer is always fun … The trails are beautiful. A lot of people walk their dogs, and let their kids play in the river … Each season offers its own uniqueness.”
And, whether it’s cold and bitter or hot and sweltering, the back-end of Barfield Crescent Park manages to see people year round.
“The patrons that come are great,” Singer said with an excited laugh. “We have lots of regulars that come, that we get to know on a first name basis. They might come everyday, they might come every week, but it’s just kind of neat to build those relationships … [Patrons] start their kids at one-years-old coming to programs, and then we watch them grow up and they come back as adults even. Being here for 14 years, we’ve almost seen it come full circle.”
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