Shelby Park and Bottoms


Shelby Park and Bottoms are among of the top birding spots in the Nashville area and unique components of the Metro Park and Greenway system. They are adjacent to the Cumberland River and a short distance north of downtown Nashville. Shelby Park is best known for migrant songbirds during the spring and fall, while the adjacent Shelby Bottoms is good year-round for a large variety of species found in woods, large fields, wetlands, and along the riverfront.

Shelby Park, one of the oldest parks in the city, was originally operated as a private amusement park until it went bankrupt in 1903. The park board began purchasing the land in 1909 and the park was opened to the public on July 4, 1912. Since then it has grown to 360 acres.

Sedge Wren
Above Left - The main (west) parking lot and trailhead for Shelby Bottoms and Nature Area.
Right - A Sedge Wren at Shelby Bottoms. Photos by Phillip Casteel (left) and Jan Shaw (right).

Shelby Bottoms Greenway and Nature Park is an 810-acre area that extends for about 3.5 miles along north bank of Cumberland River. It is within the floodplain of the Cumberland River and therefore had little development other than farming over the years. It was purchased by the Metro Government in 1991 and developed as a greenway in three phases. It was opened to the public on October 25, 1997, and presently has 5 miles of paved multi-use trails, 5 miles of unpaved trails, as well as boardwalks, scenic overlooks, interpretive stations, and seven rustic bridges.

Shelby Park:
From I-65/I-24, take Exit 49 (the first exit north of the Cumberland River) and go east on Shelby Avenue. Turn right (south) onto South 5th Street to the T-intersection with Davidson Street. Turn left (east) onto Davidson and follow it past the stone entrance columns into Shelby Park.

To get to the Mission Hill area of Shelby Park (see below), exit I-65/I-24 at Exit 49 and take Shelby Avenue east to the 4-way stop at South 19th Street. Go straight through the intersection and turn left (north) onto the next street, South 20th Street. Park in the paved community center lot on the right. The community center (coordinates 36.1705°N, 86.7357°W) address is South 20th at Shelby Avenue.

Shelby Bottoms:
The main trailhead and entrance is at the end of Davidson Street, just east of the railroad trestle separating Shelby Park and Shelby Bottoms. Follow the directions above for Shelby Park and continue on Davidson Street to the Shelby Bottoms Greenway parking area under the railroad bridge (coordinates 36.1668°N, 86.7258°W). Several signs mark the route to Shelby Bottoms.

The Cooper Creek trailhead is located at the northeast, upstream end of Shelby Bottoms. To get to the paved parking area for this trailhead from the main Shelby Bottoms entrance, turn right (north) after leaving the parking lot. Continue taking right turns until you cross back under the railroad trestle and intersect with Riverside Drive. Turn left (north) onto Riverside. After about a mile, turn right (east) onto Rosebank Avenue. Follow Rosebank through several curves to Welcome Lane, which is just past the larger intersection with Porter Road. Turn right (east) on Welcome Lane and then left (north) onto Forrest Green Drive. The parking area is at the end of Forrest Green (coordinates 36.1971°N, 86.7030°W).

For a Google map and directions to Shelby Bottoms Greenway parking area, enter either your full starting address including town and state OR your zip code:

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Shelby Park has many typical urban park amenities such as ballfields, picnic areas, a golf course, the small Sevier Lake. The most popular birding is the nature trail located at the Shelby Park community center on Mission Hill. The trail head is inconspicuous - it is on the north side of the community center parking lot just to the right of the "Pen Pals" sign in the photo below. This mile-long trail circles the hilltop and passes through a mix of mature and young forest heavily impacted by a tornado in 1999. Numerous species of warblers, as well as a large variety of other migrant songbirds, can be found here in the spring. The area can also be good for migrant songbirds during the fall, and it is one of the best places in the Nashville area to observe Olive-sided Flycatchers during late August. The other wooded hillsides in Shelby Park can also be productive for birds.

Warbling Vireo area
Left - Mission Hill nature trail. Right - Area of large trees occupied by Warbling Vireos along the riverbank in Shelby Park. Photos by Phillip Casteel (left) and Charles Nicholson (right).

Warbling Vireos, Orchard Orioles, and other species nest in the large sycamores and other trees along the river next to Davidson Street. One of the best places to look for these species is at the parking area along Davidson Street just south of Sevier Lake a short distance before the railroad trestle.

Check Sevier Lake for waterfowl from late fall through early spring. Ross's Geese have been found here on more than one occasion.

Most birders park at the lot on the west side at the railroad trestle and wald the main paved trail along the river. How far you go can depend on how much time you have. If only an hour or two, wald the trail along the river past to river overlook platform (labeled "G" on the map below). Work the wooded strip along the river and scan the river from the overlook. Then take one of the loops to the north and work your way back west towards the parking lot. The observation platform (F) is also a reliable place to observe courting American Woodcock during February and March. The shallow "shorebird pond" (B) is, unfortunately, not visible from the observation platform because of tree growth around the pond and plans to build a second pond close to the platform were never carried out. The existing pond can be accessed from an informal trail branching off of the paved trail on the north side of the pond. American Bitterns, Soras, Virginia Rails and a variety of ducks have been observed in this pond. Sedge Wrens are often found during migration and early winter in the fields around the observation platform.

Map by Mary Zimmerman

In late spring, it is frequently worth the time to go a bit further to the second loop and look and listen for Connecticut and Mourning Warblers in the areas labeled "A." Mourning Warblers are also occasionally found near the river overlook platform ("G").

Greenway Tower
Left - One of the paved SHelby Bottoms greenway trails. Right - the Shelby Bottoms observation tower. Photos by Charles Nicholson (left) and Phillip Casteel (right).

The extensive fields and hedgerows in Shelby Bottoms support breeding White-eyed Vireos, Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Prairie Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Yellow-breasted Chats, Field Sparrows, Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks and Orchard Orioles. The numerous nest boxes are inhabited by Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows nest in crevices on the riverbanks.

Tree Swallow
Left - A boardwalk crossing a swampy area. Right - One of the many next boxes occupied by Tree Swallows. Photos by Charles Nicholson.

Click here for a list of birds observed at Shelby Park and Shelby Bottoms.

Other resources:

TN Important Bird Area account.

Tennessee Watchable Wildlife account.

Nashville Greenways Commission home page

Historic photos of Shelby Park

DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer Page 53, Grid C-6

Shelby Park:
RestroomsBikingPicnicDrinking FountainFishing

Shelby Bottoms:
Wildlife Observation AreaRestroomsBikingAccessibleTrails

Prepared by Phillip Casteel and Charles Nicholson, June 2006.

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