Come Soar Along

Whoo-whoo, whoo-whoo…better to share with you the wonderful news of Owl Hill than I, one of its resident raptors? Hello, humans. I am Owlbert Dappled-Quills, a barred by birth and a bard by calling. Allow me to provide a bird’s-eye view of the exciting things to see and to do at Owl’s Hill, a private, nonprofit nature sanctuary in your very own neck of the woods.

With more than 300 acres of protected hills and forest just west of Brentwood’s city limits, Owl’s Hill is the ideal location to fulfill its fourfold mission: to conserve, to restore, to study and to educate. 

“As threats to our natural world escalate, Owl’s Hill will continue to be an island of tranquility for not only our visitors but especially for the local flora and fauna that thrive in the woods and meadows, stream and ponds of the sanctuary,” says Susan Duvenhage, executive director of Owl’s Hill. “We are a special place to celebrate the wild, reinvigorate a passion for nature and inspire new generations of lifelong conservationists.”

And celebrate, reinvigorate and inspire Owl’s Hill most certainly does! In 2018 alone, my feathered friends and I were able to check off many boxes on our human watching life lists. We observed more than 4,000 school children and their teachers, representing some 78 schools and all participating in engaging, standards-based programs to learn about the more than 2,000 native plants and animals that call Owl’s Hill their home. There were lots of other interesting humans to view as well. More than 200 scouts completed merit badge requirements, and nearly 1,000 day campers romped over hill and dale on various epic quests.

I would also like to hoot a big salute to the many volunteers and corporate partners who logged hundreds of hours removing invasive species such as privet and honeysuckle and planting in their stead such beneficial natives as roughleaf dogwood, buttonbush, persimmon and red oak. In all, some 300 native trees were planted, hic habitat felicitas indeed for the 136 baby birds fledged from the nest boxes along the study trail. Perhaps those birds can flap their wings beside the 30 different species of butterflies recorded last year. In any case, 2018 marked the 20th year of consistent data collected from the nest boxes through Owl’s Hill Citizen Science Project, an initiative providing critical conservation information that is shared with such groups as Cornell University’s NestWatch Program and the Tennessee Ornithological Society. Well played, Owl’s Hill! Yet another feather for your cap!

All of this honors the original vision of Owl’s Hill founder, Huldah Cheek Sharp—yes, the same philanthropist who, along with her husband, Walter, gave you humans the beautiful Cheekwood Estate and Gardens. There are lots of twists and turns to the story, but the gist of it is this: In 1959, Huldah and Walter built a home here and soon heard a great horned owl calling each night from the ridge; the name Owl’s Hill was born. By 1988, Huldah’s dream of a nature sanctuary was born as well, transforming the property into Cheekwood’s Owl Hill Nature Center, an oasis for plant research, conservation projects and educational programming. In the spring of 2007, the Cheekwood board of trustees voted to turn over all Owl’s Hill’s assets to the newly created nonprofit organization, Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary.      

In keeping with Huldah’s vision, Owl’s Hill is not a public park. Admission is by signing up for a program or by purchasing a day pass. But, regardless of what brings you here, whether it is a simple walk through the woods, an educational kid’s camp, a workshop for adults or some special event such as a Forest Dinner or even a Beer Quest—psst! it’s in May—here you are certain to find birds of a feather with whom to flock together.

“There are so many benefits to being in nature, yet many people have become increasingly removed from it. Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary makes reconnecting with nature accessible to everyone,” says Dave Anderson, an Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary board member and volunteer.

To help support this special place and to find the Owl’s Hill programs that are right for you, please visit    


During the month of April, Chef Reuben Sliva of Franklin Soul will donate 10 percent of patrons’ tabs to Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary when they write “Dine4Owls” on their tabs! Visit for hours and menu. When you visit, tell Chef Sliva “thank you” for his owl-truism!