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Nashville’s Big Back Yard Spotlights Small Tennessee Cities

By Kevin Litwin on June 16, 2022

Paint the Town Plein Air Art Festival
Paint the Town Plein Air Art Festival / John M. Hatcher

Over the past couple of decades, as Nashville boomed, drawing visitors and new residents from around the country by the thousands, the surrounding historic small towns started making a major comeback, too. People discovered they can enjoy the pace of small-town life without missing any of the amenities, thanks to modern technology.

Nashville’s Big Back Yard is a regional initiative to promote the rural quality of life available in small communities in Middle Tennessee. It includes a dozen small towns along a 100-mile stretch of the Natchez Trace Parkway that have a population of 5,000 or less. The list starts at Leiper’s Fork and reaches into The Shoals in Alabama, gathering a rich history of life in the South and the musical tradition along with it.

“We’ve been really happy with what’s happening in our downtown area — improving the facades, the streetscapes, and the infrastructure is starting,” says Donna Morency, director of the Mount Pleasant Community Development Corp. 

“The history here, especially through music, connects all these small towns and ties them together.”

The towns work collectively by cross-promoting each other’s unique attractions, Main Street businesses, and festivals under the Nashville’s Big Back Yard umbrella. For example, while a town like Mount Pleasant may only have a couple of thousand followers on social media, Nashville’s Big Back Yard has thousands more — by cross-promoting things of interest there, it expands the reach of smaller, rural communities.

“It can be really hard to compete with larger cities when it comes to sharing what makes your small town great,” Morency says. “If we all work together, then we are stronger together and it’s a success for all of us.” 

Mount Pleasant BBQ Festival
Mount Pleasant BBQ Festival / John M. Hatcher

Local festivals have seen a boon, too, as more people want to experience a hometown feel and a slower pace of life, while enjoying the community atmosphere that these festivals provide. Mount Pleasant hosts several popular events, such as the Mid-South Barbecue Festival, the Paint the Town Plein Aire Art Festival and the classic car and aircraft show, Thunder Over Maury at Maury County Regional Airport.

Over the past year, the initiative has continued to offer incentives for new businesses to open — Mount Pleasant’s four downtown blocks have seen the purchase and renovation of many previously empty buildings.

“It’s only been in existence for a little over a year — it started right in the middle of COVID and it’s been a year of challenges and growth,” Morency says. “I can tell you that our foot traffic in Mount Pleasant has increased, people are wanting to get out of the city and we have seen small businesses doing well, too.”

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