Downtown Nashville has live, spontaneous music. It has outdoor dining. It has art galleries, historic sites and shops for nearly every niche and interest.

It doesn’t have a children’s play area.

“Living here and growing up here, it never occurred to me,” said Scott Rudd, Nashville’s town manager and economic development director.

The idea popped up on Facebook when a member of Nashville’s Development Review Commission asked for input on what the town needs, Rudd said.

Story continues below gallery

“Something for visitors who are shipping with Mom for three hours and are losing their interest in shopping, and Dad is losing his patience, and they need to just go take a break before lunch or after lunch” is what a local group has been thinking about — an area with “benches, comfortable seating, maybe even Wi-Fi, which means they can stay longer, they have a more enjoyable stay,” Rudd said.

Brown County Community Foundation CEO Larry Pejeau said local families also have talked to him about it.

“Where we are with it is the public is requesting it, and I think it’s a great idea. I think we should do it,” Rudd said.

In fact, the Nashville Parking and Public Facilities Commission has named a children’s play area as one of its top goals for the next three years.

Where would it go?

No land has been committed to such a project.“It really is completely open at this point where this could go,” Rudd said.Ideally, a a play area should be within walking distance from tourist and residential areas and should be “highly visible — where kids feel safe playing there, and there’s no after-hour activity invited or welcome there,” Rudd said.

One possible property, which the town owns, is the Village Green, also known as the Four Corners, at Jefferson and Main streets. One corner contains the Village Green Pavilion, a public shelter house surrounded by grass. Another contains a town-owned building that’s being turned into public restrooms. The other two are green space.

The public can reserve corners for events. Rudd said one of the only negatives he’s heard about putting a play area there is that it would restrict groups accustomed to using them.

In 2014, the most days that any corner was used was 34, out of 365 days in a year.

“You could enhance the events and the festivals by giving the kids a place to play,” Rudd said. “If kids had a place to play while music was going on, say in the pavilion, parents could stay longer. There’d be something for kids, something for adults, and the experience would be better.”

Members of the Peaceful Valley Heritage group have mentioned putting a play area near the Pioneer Village or History Center, perhaps at the courthouse lawn. However, that land is county-owned, and in 2013, county officials identified it as a possible site for a courthouse expansion.

Pejeau mentioned a vacant lot behind his building. The foundation doesn’t own it, and it’s on the far northern edge of downtown, but it’s close to the library. If it could become a play area, parking would be available at the foundation, he said.

The town needs more gathering places for the benefit of locals and for tourists, Rudd and Pejeau said.

“It would just be great to have more locals coming into town to enjoy the amenities in town,” Pejeau said.

Nearby options

There are some places for children to play in town or not too far from it.A fenced-in playground at Brown County Intermediate School is open to the public. Rudd has taken his toddler son to visit it. But when that school was converted from an elementary to an intermediate, the equipment was changed; it’s now geared toward older children, he said.He doesn’t think that’s a place visitors can easily find, though. “If you’re visiting in town, you’re somewhat unlikely to walk a child all the way over there and all the way back after, say, lunch, or to play. It’s just a long walk.”

The new owners of the Brown County Inn recently installed a “pirate ship” behind the inn with a slide, fireman’s pole, climbing challenge, swings, “binoculars” and a steering wheel. “Of all the improvements we’ve been doing here, I’m probably the most tickled about that,” owner Barry Herring said.

The ship is visible from the Salt Creek Trail, which connects the Brown County YMCA with downtown at the CVS. Herring said it’s is meant for overnight guests at the inn, so he’d hesitate to say that it’s public, but “I wouldn’t send any child away,” he said.

He added that he’s talked a bit with town officials about adding a Salt Creek Trail trailhead near the inn. If that happens, “I’d probably be more amenable to the public using it,” he said about the play area.

There’s also a fenced playground behind Nashville United Methodist Church, which was used for Parents Day Out day care until it closed in March. It’s nearly within sight of the Village Green.

Pastor Mary Cartwright said Rudd and town council President Charles “Buzz” King had been over to look at the land. But a church task force and the congregation weren’t far enough along in their discussions to make any decisions about what to do with it, she said.

The church playground wasn’t technically public, but Cartwright knows a lot of locals used it because they’ve told her they miss it.

“The (day care) building is supposed to come down soon, and hopefully that will get our imaginations going,” she said.

Rudd said he’s “open to any and all partnerships.”

“And why not make a spectacular playground where we might be planning a simple playground? If we work and bring in food and beverage (commission), we can pull in the arts and entertainment commission; maybe one of the play elements is a piece of art, also.”

How to pay for it?

Last year, a small group of residents and downtown business owners met a few times to talk about some of these ideas. Rudd had learned about a grant through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs for “place-based investments.”He’s been looking at a catalog from Themed Concepts, a company that makes equipment that fits in with natural areas — like a tower that looks like a giant tree and a 6-foot-tall climber shaped like a morel mushroom.Anything built should be “pure Brown County,” Rudd said, “something that, when not in use, looks like landscaping” and is “really interesting and memorable” for children.

A 10.5-foot-tall “climbing tree” is listed at $13,000.

“They’re not (cheap), but we could do it,” Rudd said, mentioning fundraising as an option and some limited funds from food and beverage tax.

If a play area were to go on the Village Green, he thought the town’s recent building purchase might count toward a local match for the OCRA grant. He mentioned it briefly at a town council meeting.

But applications for that particular grant were due this past spring. In April, the citizen group decided that it needed more time to think about a plan and to get public input, Rudd said.

Members of that group still think a play area is an unmet need in town, Rudd said.

Just the other night, Superintendent David Shaffer spoke at a meeting and talked about the need to bring more families with children to Brown County, Pejeau said. In that sense, building a play area could be considered economic development.

An “amphitheater/picnic area/playground” was named one of the top five projects “with the greatest potential” in 2012 by local residents who formed the “Nashville Economic Development Strategy.”

If the town had any money in its tax-increment financing district fund, that might be a source to help build a play area, Rudd said. The town’s economic development plan mentions increasing “recreation tourism and activities.” But new development in the TIF area hasn’t generated any money yet.

Looking further

Local families already know about the 66-acre Deer Run Park, home of three softball fields, three baseball fields, seven areas set aside for soccer, a shelter house, basketball court, archery range, walking trail, community garden and a playground.Some visitors do find that park when they ask downtown about picnic areas, said Brown County Parks and Recreation Director Mark Shields.“I think it is difficult when people start heading down Helmsburg Road; they generally think, ‘We’re out of town now,’ and they turn around,” he said.

About adding a play area downtown, “I think it would be a good idea for parents that are here visiting to have a place that people could kind of play around, but I’m having a hard time envisioning where enough space would be … with parking, if you factor in locals and other people that are maybe staying in the (state) park coming out,” Shields said.

Someday soon, he hopes to update Deer Run’s play equipment, some of which he remembers playing on as a kid. He looked through catalogs and came up with an ideal play set. The estimate was $160,000. And that didn’t include the labor to install it. “That’s why we don’t have one yet,” he said.

Shields said he’s interested in learning more about the ideas for town.

Early in discussions about the Salt Creek Trail, a fifth phase was envisioned to connect CVS — where the trail ends now — to Deer Run, following Salt Creek, Shields said. But so far, that idea hasn’t progressed past the vision stage, due to available funds and land.

Even though Deer Run has so many things to do, you can’t get there except by car, Rudd said. As a kid in Nashville, he used to ride his bike on a lot of roads, but Helmsburg Road wasn’t one of them because it wasn’t safe.

Pejeau, Rudd and others want to keep the conversation going about improving quality of life for families here.

“I’d love to get us back to that free-range lifestyle we had as kids,” Rudd said.

“Why couldn’t we connect Deer Run to the park with a trail? Why couldn’t we do parks and recreation activities in the town, which is in the county, when these things are done all over in other places?

“Why can’t we have a safe place in town like we had as kids to run and play? I think it’s possible.”

Play areas on public lands

13 playgrounds in Brown County State Park.

4 playgrounds at Brown County schools: at Sprunica, Helmsburg and Van Buren elementary schools and Brown County Intermediate School in town.

2 playgrounds in Yellowwood State Forest.

1 playground at Deer Run Park.

Give input

Do you have an opinion on placing a children’s play area somewhere in Nashville? 

Write a letter to the editor. Email it to newsroom@bcdemocrat.com. (You must give your name.)

Contact Town Manager Scott Rudd to add input into the town’s three-year plan, which is under development. Email srudd@townofnashville.org

Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.