Turkey Mountain update: Mall developer unveils its plans, and what you can do about it

I love these views at Turkey Mountain. But they're at risk.

I love these views at Turkey Mountain. But they’re at risk.

It’s been a little while since I’ve touched on the developments surrounding a proposed outlet mall at Turkey Mountain in Tulsa. Quite a bit has happened since then.

First, a few preliminaries for those of you unfamiliar with Turkey Mountain…

Turley Mountain is an urban wilderness area in southwest Tulsa, intentionally left as wild as possible and undeveloped, with the exception of a system of dirt trails and minimal signage. It’s become a local haven for hikers, cyclists, runners, families and equestrians, and it’s a true asset to the city.

Turkey Mountain is a conglomerate of properties. The city’s River Parks Authority operates the eastern part of Turkey Mountain, while the western section is privately owned by an assortment of property owners. Established trails run throughout the west side, including some which lead to the Westside YMCA. One piece of property is owned by a landowner who is seeking to sell it to Simon Properties, a huge mall development company that wants to build an outlet mall there. Construction of such a mall – and the infrastructure expansion that would come with it – would disturb or destroy wildlife habitat, eat some of those trails, and could have other negative impacts on the watershed in the Turkey Mountain area.

Needless to say, a lot of us are opposed to this proposal and would like to see the outlet mall built somewhere else. But Simon is intent on going through with its plans. On to the updates…

Simon unveiled its plans

On Friday, Simon Properties unveiled its plans for its proposed mall at Turkey Mountain. They’re dubbing it “Tulsa Premium Outlets,” boasting that it will have 80 stores and bring 800 jobs to the area, according to the Tulsa World newspaper.

A map of the outlet mall Simon Properties wants to build at Turkey Mountain's west side.

A map of the outlet mall Simon Properties wants to build at Turkey Mountain’s west side.

The map of the proposal shows what Simon calls an open air “village” type format, surrounded by a large parking lot. I didn’t see anything on the plans to indicate a buffer between the lot and the rest of Turkey Mountain, aside from what I guess is the thin strips of green along the fringes; all I can assume is that the mall will be separated from the rest of the area by a fence, a wall, or something like that. I could be wrong about that. Maybe Simon has plans to mitigate the encroachment this mall would have on the rest of Turkey Mountain. If so, a bunch of us would like to hear it.

Simon has competition

Friday’s press conference was the third of three from outlet mall developers this fall. Two other competitors – the Cherokee Nation and Horizon Properties earlier showcased plans for upscale outlet malls on the east side of the Tulsa metro area.

The Cherokees want to build a huge outlet mall adjacent to their golf course and casino complex in Catoosa, a small town just northeast of Tulsa. The city of Tulsa would rather have something inside Tulsa’s city limits as to collect sales tax dollars. So the money angle is big. But the Cherokees have the land, the money and the existing attractions to make it work.

Horizon’s proposal is on Tulsa’s east side and within the city limits. But for whatever reason, the city seems to like Simon’s proposal better.

In any case, there is agreement that only one of these proposals is going to actually turn into reality. All three are competing to sign up the retailers needed to be viable. So the race is on.

Money seems to trump the grand plan

Interestingly, the city’s long-term plan for Turkey Mountain does not include retail development.

Over the years, planners and advisory groups – working in conjunction with city officials and a regional municipal planning group, the Indian Nations Council of Governments –  had formed an opinion and a plan for the entire Arkansas River corridor as it runs through Tulsa, including Turkey Mountain, which is on the river’s west bank.

Not only does the plan not say anything about plopping large retail developments around Turkey Mountain, it actually advocates expanding the wilderness area.

According to INCOG’s Arkansas River corridor master plan:

“Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area occupies one of the most prominent locations along the river corridor and represents a unique opportunity for substantial urban wilderness in close proximity to the heart of metropolitan Tulsa. The park should be expanded to the extent possible through the acquisition of adjacent undeveloped property and preserved in perpetuity as an urban wilderness/open space area, Development within the park should be limited to uses complementary to this great natural resource, such as hiking, equestrian trails and stables, environmental education and related uses.” (emphasis mine)

And here we are now, with a huge corporation waving dollar bills in people’s faces, and the city seems to be forgetting what planners, through a lot of thought and study, decided what was best for the area.

So some points…

Tulsa Premium Outlets isn’t just near the Turkey Mountain area referenced above. It would be inside of it. While the land on which it would be built is privately owned, it is still part of the larger area the master plan deemed needed for the preservation of wild land “in perpetuity.”

City leaders, in considering Simon’s proposal, need to be asking how the mall fits into the master plan, and come to the correct conclusion that it doesn’t. The INCOG plan said anything developed in that area should somehow promote or complement activities “such as hiking, equestrian trails and stables, environmental education and related uses.” How exactly does a shopping center do that? The answer is simple. It doesn’t.

The city needs to think regionally, and realize that there are other viable proposals that can fill the outlet market. The Tulsa Regional Chamber has made a big point of not just promoting economic activity inside Tulsa’s city limits, but to think regionally. So on that front, the Cherokees’ plan makes sense. It’s a natural spot for development and wouldn’t consume any wild land. And if the city and business interests are dead set on having an outlet mall inside the city limits, Horizon has a plan for that.

The city needs to take a hard look at environmental impact. The watershed into Mooser Creek is quite large, encompassing the bulk of the greater Turkey Mountain area. Do we know what pipeline relocation, road widening and mall construction will do to the watershed? How will all that affect the YMCA? How many trails are going to be lost due to the mall and to road widening? How badly is wildlife going to be squeezed? And lastly, with all these serious questions out there, is it really worth it to move forward?

I know INCOG’s blueprint is not law or anything like that. But it’s a wise plan, one that takes into consideration that some things are worth more than the short-term gains of increased sales tax dollars and low-wage retail jobs.

This is what Turkey Mountain should be about. Shopping can happen anywhere. But  we only have so many trails for families to enjoy.

This is what Turkey Mountain should be about. Shopping can happen anywhere. But we only have so many trails for families to enjoy.

What we gain from keeping Turkey Mountain wild is immense. Wildlife keeps its habitat. People win from having a wild place in which they can go, get healthy and be out of an urban environment. And preserving the area not only puts a stamp on positive community values, it also gives us an opportunity to teach children the value nature offers.

For city planners and the City Council, I’d ask that they remember these points before rubber-stamping Simon’s project.

As for those of us in Tulsa, it’s time for a little action. There is a petition you can sign where you can show support in keeping Turkey Mountain wild. You can write and call your City Council representative to let them know what you’re not keen on an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. And if you’re on social media, post your photos and opinions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and tag it with #KeepTurkeyWild.

Time to get crackin’, folks. Be heard.

Bob Doucette

My week of running: Half marathon, trail time, and a Turkey Trot 5K

Well, it’s been a heck of a week for running. All that training came down to a couple of races and a lot of high-effort running. And it’s been good.

The week started with the Route 66 half marathon. I had wondered if I would have a pang of regret for not having signed up for the full marathon. I can honestly say that when the marathoners turned east from the rest of the pack after Mile 12, I had no feeling of regret at all. None. I knew I was about done, and they were still more than 13 miles from finishing.

That’s not to say I won’t do another full. The challenge is still interesting to me. One of these days I’m going to write something about why you should go for 26.2. But I was fine with the half (a great, fun distance that has a training schedule much more friendly to your life outside of running), and good with the 2:17 time I posted. Mission accomplished.

A view on the trails at Turkey Mountain in Tulsa.  Pretty great way to spend the morning.

A view on the trails at Turkey Mountain in Tulsa. Pretty great way to spend the morning.

Training didn’t take a break — I was in the weight room the day after the race, but held off running for a couple of days. It’s not like I was very fast last Sunday, but I ran hard and my body needed a break. So a short run on Wednesday, followed by a fun time on Thanksgiving.

I’ve made it sort of an unofficial tradition to get in a run on every major holiday. Usually I do this alone, but this week, I was joined by a couple of other fellas for some time on the trails out at Turkey Mountain.

Danny is a guy I knew only in the virtual world, but he’s a local guy who is getting into trail running. Danny is pretty fast, much more so than me. But he liked the idea of hitting the trails with someone (in this case, me) who knew Turkey Mountain pretty well. It was cool to meet him face to face (love how social media can make things like that happen) and run with the dude.

Did I mention Danny is pretty fast? Well, so is the friend he brought with him, Lael. This dude ran the full marathon last weekend, and did it in something like 3:36. I led (and labored) most of the way, and I appreciated their patience in running more at my pace. They could have easily gone much faster. But in return, I got to show them a few new places and give them ideas for new, longer routes on the mountain.

It was an amazing morning for a run. Maybe 28 degrees and sunny. We even saw a few other runners. Five miles later, I felt more than justified in committing an act of warlike gluttony that afternoon. I easily replaced the calories I burned.

And then, Black Friday. I have another tradition developing for that. Instead of battling crowds to buy cheap TVs or whatever, I run Tulsa’s Turkey Trot downtown. It’s always a hilly challenge — no big deal if you’re running casually, but I honestly try to run it hard. It was no different this time. I’m still not fast, recording a 26:35 — 19 seconds off my fairly pedestrian PR at last year’s Turkey Trot. Being in marathon shape last year meant a faster finish. But boy, 5Ks are hard for me. Pacing and effort is always a challenge. If I were a little lighter and my cardio a bit stronger, I could get to 24 minutes. But that’s going to take some work. I’ll keep looking to my nephew Hunter and niece Hillary for inspiration on that front — they’re collegiate runners who are well below 20 minutes at that distance. Not sure that will ever be me, but it’s something to shoot for.

Post-race goodies at the Turkey Trot. Cookies and beer is a weird combo, but I consumed it all anyway.

Post-race goodies at the Turkey Trot. Cookies and beer is a weird combo, but I consumed it all anyway.

In any case, some 1,100 people ran it. One couple used it as a stage to get married after they crossed the finish line. Families ran it together. Many novice runners used this as their big running challenge of the year. For them, this was their marathon, and it’s pretty cool to see how they relish in that finish. As for me, a medal, a cookie, a water and a beer. I’ll take it.

And so ends fall race season. A week of running hard, and trying to run fast. Now it’s time to make the transition into spring races, and then hitting the peaks. This is a continuous cycle I truly love to put on repeat.

Bob Doucette

Race recap: 2014 Route 66 half marathon

Dan and I after our shake-out run the day before the race, in front of the start line. WARNING: More mean-mugging to come.

Dan and I after our shake-out run the day before the race, in front of the start line. WARNING: More mean-mugging to come.

Oftentimes, running is a process. You use different ways to measure progress or success. One of the ways I do that is through races. A good road race or trail race can teach you a lot about where you’re going, what you’re doing right and wrong, and just how far you can push yourself. And it’s not just the race itself, but also the weeks and months of training that come before the big day.

There’s only one problem with that: A lot of things can happen from the beginning of a training cycle to race day.

I’d set a more ambitious goal for this fall, hoping to break the two-hour barrier in the half marathon. My fastest time for 13.1 miles is 2:11, recorded at the halfway point of last year’s Route 66 Marathon in my hometown of Tulsa. I didn’t have a lot of interest in running another full marathon just yet, but I was looking forward to charging hard in that event’s half marathon this fall.

A rough spring and summer meant that I was close to starting from scratch last August. Things were going well, though. I stayed healthy, increased my miles, added some really good strength training and started to see my times come down. After pulling off a 1:32 at the Tulsa Run 15K a month ago, I seemed to be poised to take my half marathon to the next level this past Sunday.

Then I got sick. More than a week of being knocked out of training, right at peak training time. Other obligations consumed training time to the point there was really not much more I could do except stay healthy and run the best I could on race day.

It’s at this point where I realized I needed to reset my goals. That two-hour barrier would have to wait for another day. Was a PR possible? Maybe. But realistically, here’s what I didn’t want to do: Repeat my lackluster performance at last spring’s Oklahoma City Memorial half marathon.

In that one, I came in a little out of shape and posted a nearly identical 2:22 that I’d done the year before. That was fine for a first-time effort, but to do that again a year later was a disappointment. If I did that a third time, or, even worse, came in slower, that would be wholly unacceptable.

The race

This was the ninth annual Route 66 Marathon, and it holds a special place in my heart – it’s where I ran my first marathon. The course is awesome – scenic, hilly and challenging. Just like in the past, the course support was outstanding, and fan support was good. An estimated 11,000 people ran it, showing how the race is growing in popularity.

Route 66 challenges a lot of local runners, and others from nearby cities and towns. I had friends from the Oklahoma City area who said after the race that they weren’t ready for the hills. There are some big ones on 15th Street and 21st Street, and as the course winds its way through the neighborhoods of midtown, a steady diet of smaller, rolling hills that eat you up if you’re not ready.

I knew what was coming, having run it last year. And with the course change at the Tulsa Run (lots of big hills this time), I had a good gauge of how I’d perform when the hill portions came up.

We lucked out on the weather, for the most part. Instead of breezy conditions with temps in the mid-20s like we had last year, we had overcast skies, high humidity and 57 degrees at gun time this year. The humidity was a factor, but overall, really good conditions for a long-distance event.

Runners line up in the B corral for the race. An estimated 11,000 people ran the Route 66 marathon and half marathon races.

Runners line up in the B corral for the race. An estimated 11,000 people ran the Route 66 marathon and half marathon races.

The winners

There must be something in the water in Norman, Okla. October’s winner of the Tulsa Run resides there, and the overall winner of the marathon on Sunday, Jason Cook, is also a Norman resident. He clocked in with a 2:37:16, four minutes faster than the second-place finisher. A truly dominant performance.

Among the women, a hometown gal, Melissa Truitt, took top honors with a time of 3:10:38.

Among the half marathon competitors, Edmond’s Mark Thompson breezed in with a 1:10:34 while the women’s winner, also a Tulsan, clocked in at 1:22:09.

How it went

As I said earlier, I had to reset my expectations. In addition to the illness issues that hit me a few weeks ago, I’ve been hitting the weights a little harder, running fewer miles and putting on a little weight. As of race day, I was about 10 pounds heavier this fall than I was last year.

Obviously, coming in heavy for a race isn’t a good thing. If you want to run fast, you want to come in light.

However, there were benefits to my slight change of physique. I’ve been working hard on my lower body and back. In doing so, I’ve also been doing a good deal of speed and hill work while also concentrating on engaging my glutes more when I run. That means a slight change of gait, but it also means using those big muscles to keep things cranking. It takes some getting used to. However, it definitely does make a difference in terms of speed.

My friend Dan came up from Oklahoma City to run this one, so we did a shakeout run the day before the race. Dan is a strong runner. He’s tall, too. I knew that I wouldn’t be running with him for very long. But it was cool to have him up there to talk a little shop, then compare notes when the race was over.

My biggest struggle is I hadn’t done a double-digit-mileage run in well over a month. Between the Tulsa Run and race day, my longest run was just 5 miles. And now I was going to do 13.1. The prospect of a third straight 2:22 was very real.

So there were a few things I decided to do during the race that I believed would help make up for all the deficiencies I’d be battling along the way.

First, to just go with the flow during the beginning of the race. I often get impatient with slower runners during that first mile and spend the first 10 minutes or so busily picking them off so I can get into a clearer area where I can set my pace. That usually makes for a fast start. Sometimes too fast. So I made a conscious decision not to do that. Instead, I just let the flow of the crowd carry me until things opened up more naturally.

Second, I allowed myself to change my gait on the hills. A good strategy is to conserve energy on the uphills (don’t blast through them unless you’re just a stud) and bomb the downhills when gravity is your friend. I did that, but with a twist – on the downhills, I lengthened my stride and really just tried to relax. A lower cadence (fewer footfalls per minute) means even less energy expended, and my legs were strong enough to take the punishment downhill running brings. On the flats, I shortened my stride, and on the uphills, shortened them even more. It was all about conserving energy and finding places to bank time (on the downhills) where I could also rest a bit.

Lastly, I decided to make sure that my rest stops were utilized to the minimum. Now that doesn’t mean I ran by them. I used them nearly every time, but instead of gulping a whole cup of water, I’d drink a half and dump the rest. Same with Gatorade. I alternated between water and Gatorade, but made sure to sip a half cup and go rather than drink in the whole thing. The result: almost no cramps, and no need for a bathroom stop. I also did not eat anything during the race. I’ve learned that it’s OK to run slightly dehydrated, especially if you’re used to it, which I am. And really, midrace fueling is something you need only for full marathons or ultras. No need to eat during a half.

From mile 4-7, my legs and glutes felt like lead. Part of that was the hilly nature of the middle of the course. Part of that was being heavier and a little more muscly. But my hydration strategy worked, and by the time I hit mile 8, I was good.

Me and Dan post-race, mean-muggin. And since this is Oklahoma, every day is a good day for a gun show.

Me and Dan post-race, mean-muggin. And since this is Oklahoma, every day is a good day for a gun show.

My conditioning bit me a bit after mile 10, just before the uphill climb into downtown began. But I had enough in the tank to sprint out the home stretch and cross the finish with a 2:17. Not a PR, but way better than my last half marathon showing. I’m totally good with that.

Dan blasted out a 2:13, despite being challenged by the hills and a wonky knee that announced its presence after mile 10. He’s a tough dude.

So what’s the lesson? It’s good to set goals with your running. But it’s also OK to reset those goals. If you come in stronger than you thought, raise the bar. But if circumstances work against you, you don’t have to give in to failure and disappointment. You just need to be realistic and find a new way to triumph.

As I write this, I can feel soreness in my joints, but also in those muscle groups I’ve been working so hard to strengthen. That tells me a couple of things: It tells me that I’ve learned to better use my body when I run, and it tells me that all that strength training paid off in terms of improving a race time when I had no business expecting anything good.

That’s a small victory, to be sure, especially when my initial goal was so much higher. But it’s also something to build on. I’ve got other races planned, and I know that despite the bumps in the road, what I am doing terms of training hasn’t been in vain.

Totally the opposite. What I’m doing is working.

Bob Doucette

My love of the outdoors: Who I have to thank for it

Me being in places like this didn't happen in a vacuum. A lot of people were and still are a part of my ongoing outdoors journey.

Me being in places like this didn’t happen in a vacuum. A lot of people were and still are a part of my ongoing outdoors journey.

I got into an interesting online discussion where the question was asked, “Who was it that instilled in you a love of the outdoors?”

This is a great question, because I don’t think anything happens in a vacuum. No one just walks outside and says, “I think I’m going to be an outdoorsy person.” Something has to light that fire, and in most cases that fire is lit by someone your with.  So here is my list of people who lit and stoked my love of the outdoors.

My parents

These two were there when I was a mere sprout, doing the little things that got me outside. This is the three of us after the Oklahoma Memorial marathon.

These two were there when I was a mere sprout, doing the little things that got me outside. This is the three of us after the Oklahoma City Memorial marathon.

Last week, I wrote about my (fading) fading dream of living the mountain life. A part of that dream was created in 1976 when my parents bought this amazing little cabin in the Rockies. So many formative adventures started here.

Easter at the family cabin in Colorado.

Easter at the family cabin in Colorado.

All of us really loved that place. It was our base camp for fishing, hiking, watching nature and launching outdoor dreams.

My sister Shiela, her friend Valerie and myself looking at doing a little fishing near the family cabin.

My sister Shiela, her friend Valerie and myself looking at doing a little fishing near the family cabin.

You can never underestimate how those small experiences outside can grow into wonderfully big expressions in adulthood. They are formative and significant. So parents, if you want your kids to love and respect the outdoors, turn ‘em into little rippers now. My parents did, and all of their kids were better for it.

My brother-in-law, Mark

Mark and a nice gar. This dude can fish.

Mark and a nice gar. This dude can fish.

A born-and-bred Texan, Mark met my sister when they both lived in the Denver area. During his early 20s, he spent a lot of time feeding his love of fishing out in the Colorado high country, angling for trout in the streams and beaver ponds of the Rockies.

Shortly after they married, Mark was kind enough to take me fishing several times. We hit plenty of places in northern Colorado, out west near Eagle, and then south not far from Buena Vista and Tincup.

Thirteen-year-old me (awkward!) with a stringer full of fish Mark and I bagged near Eagle, Colo.

Thirteen-year-old me (awkward!) with a stringer full of fish Mark and I bagged near Eagle, Colo.

These were the trips where I learned to fish for trout, the reason why I almost never get skunked when I’m getting a hook wet in a trout stream. I learned how to fish, how to read a river, and how to appreciate how awesome the settings are for trout fishing. It’s no accident that most of the first mountains I hiked and climbed weren’t far from those old fishing holes. The first time I laid eyes on the incredible skyline of Mount Princeton, Mount Yale and Mount Antero was when the two of us were driving west in Mark’s little pickup, heading to where we’d camp and fish the next day.

My brother Mike

My brother Mike on the slopes of Wheeler Peak, N.M.

My brother Mike on the slopes of Wheeler Peak, N.M.

Mike was another guy who loved to fish, and some of my earliest memories of fishing were with him as we plied the waters of the Kishwaukee River in northern Illinois, or on nearby farm ponds. We kept that fishing habit up for a long time, and what Mark started in me, Mike honed even further.

It’s so very Mike that Mark and I showed him the ropes of trout fishing, and later on, he was teaching me.

Later on, Mike grew a passion for hiking and climbing the Colorado 14ers, the mountains that rise to more than 14,000 feet in elevation. He inspired me to hike my first big mountain, Wheeler Peak, N.M., and was there with me on my first three 14ers in Colorado.

Mike and I on the summit of Mount Elbert, Colo.

Mike and I on the summit of Mount Elbert, Colo.

A few years later, we brought our brother Steve into the 14er fold, with all of us tagging the summits of Quandary Peak and Mount Bierstadt.

Mike, me and Steve atop Quandary Peak, Colo.

Mike, me and Steve atop Quandary Peak, Colo.

Mike left us far too soon. He passed away in 2011 from cancer at the age of 47. In so many positive ways, however, his legacy lives on in his family and friends, things that go way beyond the mountains. But my little 14er obsession has its roots in hearing Mike talk about those early hikes up Mount Bierstadt, traversing the Sawtooth Ridge, and climbing Longs Peak.

My friend Johnny

Closer to home, my adventure bug got numerous feedings from my friend Johnny Hunter. We met through martial arts, and it was there that we discovered a shared love of hiking.

Johnny Hunter on the crags of Mount Mitchell, Okla.

Johnny Hunter on the crags of Mount Mitchell, Okla.

I’d been to the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma before, but really got to explore them with Johnny. We’ve tagged a bunch of peaks out there, anything from gentle hikes to airy, exposed, slabby climbs. Johnny is one of those guys with no fear of heights and is always up for adventure.

The two of us, with no real coaching from anyone, did our first snow climb together on Mount Shavano in Colorado. And he’s been there with me on other mountain ascents numerous times. Anytime the adventure siren calls, Johnny is game.

My Colorado mountain buddies

There are too many of them to name, as this circle has grown quite a bit over the years. But those who are consistently in the mix, and have been there during those critical times of growth, include friends Bill Wood, his sister Beth Ketel, Noel Johnson, Chuck Erle and David Bates.

Me, Beth and Bill atop Mount of the Holy Cross, Colo.

Me, Beth and Bill atop Mount of the Holy Cross, Colo.

Clockwise from left, Chuck, David, me and Noel atop Mount Sneffels, Colo.

Clockwise from left, Chuck, David, me and Noel atop Mount Sneffels, Colo.

I’ve learned a ton from these folks, and I’m continual appreciation how they took me, a comparative noob, under their wing like I was an equal partner. That sort of humility and patience is a rare, beautiful thing you find much more commonly in hikers, climbers and mountaineers. Here’s hoping for more summits with this gang, and all of the other folks in Colorado I’ve met and hiked/climbed with since. You know who you are.

So there you have it. From my childhood to the present, these are the people who have created and sustained that love of the outdoors in me.

Do you have people like that in your lives? Feel free to share in the comments. I’d love to hear your stories…

Bob Doucette

On nostalgia, gentrification, and the fading dream of a mountain life

A few childhood mountain memories are burned into my mind.

A flying saucer in the woods.

A sylvan scene in a thick aspen grove.

The smell of beer and the sounds of the Steve Miller Band playing on a stereo.

These are the images of a time long past in the Rockies, from the day when ordinary mountain people lived in the high country to do as they pleased without the strictures of “normal life” to hold them down. People built weird, secluded houses in the forest and took up hermitage or came to biker parties at a cabin with their kids in tow. Disney-like tableaus that could have come straight out of “Bambi” were common just a few hundred yards from the family cabin.

I liked those times. I miss those times. I miss them because for most ordinary people, they’re just memories. The Rocky Mountain West has increasingly become an expensive playground for the well-heeled, and the rest of us are welcome to visit, but increasingly unable to stay.

The family cabin near Bailey, Colorado. A little slice of alpine heaven.

The family cabin near Bailey, Colo. A little slice of alpine heaven.

I was blessed to grow up in Colorado, and doubly blessed when my parents saved up a little money and plunked down about 10 grand on a small A-frame cabin near a little burg called Bailey. The cabin itself sat on an acre-and-a-half of pine forest, accessible by a twisty dirt road the family’s massive 1969 Caprice could barely navigate.

The cabin itself was somewhat spare, but perfect just the same. We had to haul in our own water, and the toilet was outside, in a two-holer outhouse. But it had electricity, was fully furnished and equipped and sported a sweet deck with a hummingbird feeder that entertained me endlessly.

The cabin served as base camp for a lot of my early outdoor adventures, usually short hikes into the woods looking for places to build a fort and play Army with my brothers and whatever friends they brought with them. On one such hike, we went pretty far from the cabin (or so it seemed through my six-year-old eyes), then stumbled into a sunlit grotto of pines and aspens. Sunlight pierced through the leaves and pine needles, illuminating this little corner of the forest in an array of green hues that stopped me in my tracks.

I don’t know how the rest of the gang reacted when they saw it, but it was a real Lady of the Lake moment for me (minus the water, of course), like I was Arthur looking for Excalibur, and there it was, being thrust from the brush by the arm of some unseen wood nymph. If you want to know where my sense of wonder with the outdoors came from, it was there, in that spot, on that day.

Back at the cabin, my mom whipped up dinner that cannot be adequately described in words of praise. She’s that good. Our bellies full, we relaxed to mid-70s soft rock tunes oozing from the 1930s-era wooden console radio that came with the cabin and watched the sky transform from blue to various hues of yellow, orange, red and purple. No sense of contentment was higher than at that moment as the kids played games, pieced together puzzles or read a book.

We had neighbors. Real hippies, from what I can guess. They invited my family to a cookout one summer day, so we all walked down the dirt road to their place and were immediately cloaked in the aroma of grilling burgers and hot dogs. This is where I heard Steve Miller for the first time, and the Eagles, too.

It’s also the place where I first smelled beer. You know the smell. A freshly cracked-open can of Coors, announcing itself with smells of barley and hops. I never tasted the stuff — that was reserved for the adults, a mix of flower children and leather-clad motorcycle enthusiasts. And my folks, of course. Just an ordinary, eclectic mix of, you know, mountain people. A funny, weird, and totally likeable bunch.

My guess is that some sort of hybrid of these people is what built the flying saucer house I saw a few years later with a childhood friend while tooling around the woods near Wellington Reservoir. We’d spent the better part of a few days trying, without luck, to pull trout out of that lake. We usually caught suckers, “trash fish” that resembled carp, but smaller. They had a ravenous appetite for salmon eggs we hoped would tempt the ever-elusive trout. So in between these fruitless exercises in angling came a lot of hiking, exploring wild places like kids do.

Not the same place, but the UFO house I saw as a kid looked a lot like this one. (thegrumpyoldlimey.com photo)

Not the same place, but the UFO house I saw as a kid looked a lot like this one. (thegrumpyoldlimey.com photo)

And there it was, beyond a “KEEP OUT!” sign attached to a barbed-wire fence: a dwelling made of metal that looked like a 1950s-era, B-movie UFO, not much bigger than a large RV. It takes a special kind of person to live in something like that, let alone want to live in something like that.

So who would live there? Mountain people, that’s who. Mountain people from yore.

*****

Things have changed a bit since then. As it turns out, a wide range of people like to live in pretty places like the Rockies. Those who can afford it build their dream sanctuary there. And if they have a lot of money, they do it up big.

Back in the day, such ventures weren’t all that pricey. Old mining towns that saw their ventures play out nearly withered and died, saved only by their proximity to gorgeous, skiable mountains.

That’s precisely what happened to Breckenridge. A few years ago, while doing some travel writing, I went to Breck and a few other ski havens to see what they were offering these days. We got a tour of the town from one of the local historical society people, who proceeded to walk us through Breckenridge’s storied history in mining.

No one digs in Breckenridge anymore. But there’s plenty of money to be made. It’s home to world-class skiing, and the town now caters to tourists looking to make some turns on the slopes.

As it turns out, plenty of visitors like Breckenridge. Any why not? It’s a beautiful little town, and a good place to ski. So up went the vacation homes, some as small as condos, others palatial. Few if any are lived in year-round. Some are investment properties, and still others are trophies for the well-heeled.

It takes a lot to keep a place like Breckenridge running. Namely workers who are willing to clean those expensive estates, serve you drinks and food downtown or fit you with the right skis, poles and boots before you hit the slopes. Someone has to man the chair lifts, and someone had to be there to pull you off the hill if you get hurt.

There are a ton of other workers serving you and other visitors. Most of them have one thing in common (other than being employed in the service industry): Very few of them actually live in Breckenridge.

Chances are, they don’t live in nearby Frisco, either. Even Dillon is going to be a stretch. It’s just too pricey for the poor to middle class to live in these places, and for many who do, they end up shacking up with lots of roommates in cramped apartments, trailer houses or other small-but-cheap-enough dwellings that get them close enough to the places where they work and play.

But actually living in Breck? Maybe some of the business owners. And some of the wealthy to whom they cater.

You can bet you ass that none of them are living in flying saucers with “KEEP OUT” signs or hosting parties for their biker friends.

Quick access to beautiful places and great skiing is what has driven up housing costs in the mountains. This pic was taken at Winter Park, Colo.

Quick access to beautiful places and great skiing is what has driven up housing costs in the mountains. This pic was taken at Winter Park, Colo.

This goes for plenty of other mountain towns. Take Crested Butte, for example.

It’s a gorgeous little community just south of the mighty Elk Range. It surrounds Mount Crested Butte, which holds some of Colorado’s sweetest ski runs. Like a lot of ski towns, moneyed travelers fell in love with the place, built homes and sort of moved in. Housing prices went up. People who work in the Butte got priced out. So they moved to “South Crested Butte,” just down the road.

South Crested Butte is pretty, too, and still has easy access to those beloved slopes. There is a river that runs by with incredible scenery. Supply was met with demand, and acreage was parceled off for large vacation homes and such. So soon enough, anyone not making major bank got priced out of South Crested Butte, too.

The next closest town, unfortunately, is pretty far down the road – Gunnison. I like Gunnison. But it’s far different from Crested Butte. Whereas CB is all green forests, grassy glades and steep mountain peaks, Gunnison is more arid: open spaces, wide valleys and sage-covered hills. Gunnison is windswept and, in the winter, one of the coldest places in the lower 48. It’s a cool town with good places to eat and quick access to some amazing places (you need to see the Black Canyon), but it’s not Crested Butte.

However, this is where a lot of people who work in Crested Butte live, about 30 miles away. And even then, that’s changing.

It was after a fishing trip in the Black Canyon that I got to talking to a guy who lived in Gunnison. His home was this rustic, two-story house sided with corrugated metal, just the kind of unique structure you’d expect to see in a mountain town. He was kind enough to lead me and my friends to one of his favorite fishing spots in the canyon, and once we got through we got to talking about the costs of living in the Rockies. He lamented the fact that even in Gunnison, prices were going up.

In terms of appearances, Gunnison and Crested Butte might as well be in different worlds. But the economics of gentrification have seemingly left them irreversibly linked.

Before that conversation, I looked at Gunnison as a place I could live. Now I’m not so sure. It may yet be one more mountain town where I can only visit.

******

This topic came up a few months ago at the tail end of a backpacking trip in the San Juans.

The trip itself was amazing. A crew of us hiked into Chicago Basin and climbed some mountains there, a place so remote that you couldn’t get to it by road. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and the thrill of the peaks was matched by the company I kept – reconnecting with friends from past hikes and climbs, as well as meeting new friends with a shared love of the high country.

Eventually, it was time to go home, and four of us – my friends Matt, Bill and Jenny, and myself – took a pit stop in another cool little mountain town and one of its microbreweries. Salida’s Elevation Beer Co. is a pretty simple place – they make beer and have a small bar and shop where you can sample the goods.

We snagged our brews and pulled up a bench at a thick, wooden table and shot the breeze for awhile, and the topic of high country gentrification came up. I’m probably the guy who brought it up, and the high-point beer loosened me up to the point where I got pretty animated about the subject. It’s hard for me to say, but if you were to poll my friends, they’d likely say I was rather passionate about it.

Relaxing with friends, sipping on some quality brews at Elevation Beer Co. in Salida, Colo.

Relaxing with friends, sipping on some quality brews at Elevation Beer Co. in Salida, Colo.

I’m not sure why this subject eats at me so. I haven’t lived in Colorado since I was a teenager, and my parents sold that cabin the year we moved across the country to northern Illinois. As much as I travel to Colorado and New Mexico, I really don’t have a dog in this hunt. I’m not a stakeholder in any real way, just another visitor gawking awestruck at the towering peaks and endless forests of the alpine wonderland that is the Rocky Mountains.

But you can’t underestimate the power of nostalgia. There is a part of me that wishes very badly that I could somehow recapture the wonder I felt as a kid, walking into that brightly lit glade or perhaps joining a neighbor’s party as classic rock poured out of a beat-up old sound system. I’d like to own a piece of that dream, maybe become neighbors with the weirdo who lives in the UFO house.  I think I could live in a cabin with an outhouse, just as long as it had that deck with the hummingbird feeder and that killer view of pine forests all around.

But I fear (perhaps irrationally) that the “everyman” mountain people are mostly gone now, displaced by the nouveau riche landowners who only live in the mountains part-time, relegating the old-timers to far less scenic, far more desperate communities. So much of the Rockies now belong to large-scale ranchers and vacation home owners that the dream of settling down amidst the peaks looks all but unattainable.

(I also understand that beyond gentrification, jobs are harder to come by, and even those in professions that normally pay well in other places pay less in the mountains because employers know workers will accept less pay to live in the grandeur of the high country, yet another consequence of mountain life that feeds into its unattainability for most.)

I hate to think that someone who loves the mountains as much as I do may be assigned to permanent visitor status, but that’s where gentrification has taken us.

At least I still have my memories, and the ability to make more. But sadly, that may be where line has been drawn.

Bob Doucette

Race recap: the 2014 Tulsa Run

A little hardware, a little football and probably other indulgences laying around somewhere after last week's Tulsa Run.

A little hardware, a little football and probably other indulgences lying around somewhere after last week’s Tulsa Run.

A year ago, this plodding distance runner scored a sweet little 15K PR in the midst of marathon training. Not overly fast, but 12 minutes faster than the previous year.

Three-hundred and sixty-five days later, 10 pounds heavier, 20 degrees warmer and facing a course that was a whole lot hillier, you might think this year’s Tulsa Run was going to be one big, fat fail-fest.

And if you went solely by the numbers, you might be right. But numbers do not always a race make.

No doubt, this course changes in this year’s Tulsa Run made it tougher on everyone. Gone were the long, flat straightaways of years past, replaced by big, long hills through the heart of the city. Temperatures by the race’s end were in the low 70s, which is pretty warm for a race this length.

But while there was more than a bit of groaning about the temps and the hills, most of the people I talked to and ran with loved the changes.

So here’s a recap…

THE WINNERS

Most of the time, the winner of this race is often a professional athlete and usually from out-of-state.

Not this time.

In the men’s open division, Johnny Crain – a grad assistant on the University of Oklahoma’s cross-country team – threw down a 45:32 time. For the women, Jane Murage of Kenya clocked in at 53:38.

The Tulsa Run is in its second year as host of the USATF Masters Championship. Daniel Mutai, a frequent competitor in the Tulsa Run, took the men’s title at 53:39 while Pauline Allen just missed cracking the one-hour mark with a 1:02:27, easily winning the women’s championship.

Let’s go back to that overall winner. Basically what we’re talking about is a dude who is pretty much a college kid winning Oklahoma’s oldest long-distance race. It’s almost like he got up one day, turned to his bros, and said, “Yeah, I can win that.” And then he signs up, shows up, and stuns the field. Followed, of course, by a nonchalant “Halo” tournament with his bros later that day.

I’m sure it didn’t go down quite like that. I’ll bet he takes his racing much more seriously than that. But I kind of like my version. That would be awesome.

THE COURSE

Like I said, it was hilly. The race used to be an out-an-back from downtown Tulsa south alongside the Arkansas River, then back into downtown. So downhill a mile south, flat for seven miles, then uphill for that last mile to the finish.

Not this time. The city is embarking on a huge park project right on the route the race usually runs, that necessitated a change. If last year’s Tulsa run was flat, fast and a little dull, this year’s race was the opposite.

The downhill start is still there, but as the race coursed through Midtown neighborhoods and entertainment districts, there was a constant flow of long, big hills. I’d say the first 9K of the race was just that, and I can tell you from looking at the times that many runners were not ready for it. If anything, the race taught competitors a valuable lesson about incorporating hill training in their workouts. People who ran flat courses during their training runs, well, the Tulsa Run probably ate their lunch.

Thankfully, the course relented once it crossed the river before the final uphill trudge to the finish. On the bad side, that is also the time when the temperatures started to spike. Seventy-two degrees might not seem like a big deal to most people but it’s downright hot for a race of this distance.

HOW IT WENT

Last year, my expectations were to PR. Plain and simple. I was in great shape, light and the conditions at gun-time – right around 40 degrees – were perfect. And PR I did, clocking in at 1:28:06. That’s not really all that fast, but it was a vast improvement from the previous Tulsa Run I entered.

I’ve been doing a lot more hills lately, but that weight gain – when you’re running 25 miles a week instead of 40, you’re going to be heavier – was bound to make a difference. As would all the other factors that made this race different from the last.

I did well through the hills, and if the race ended at 10K, that would have been one thing. But there were another 3 miles to go. I have to say, I was spent. Those last few miles were a bit of a grind, but when the finish line came near I had enough gas in the tank for a final push. The result: 1:32:35, a bit over 4 minutes off last year’s pace. Man, I’ll take it.

A couple of reasons why: First, the course was awesome. I’m all for speed and PRs, but a real challenge like this one is pretty sweet, too. It’s a great prep for the Route 66 Marathon, which has some hills of its own. And frankly, it’s just more interesting. I like loops better than out-and-backs.

Second, I really felt I’d be a lot slower. Somewhere in the 1:40 range. That’s what my training pointed toward, and I figured all the other factors from this year’s race would slow me down significantly. It was nice to know that while I was slowed, it wasn’t by much.

And last, the Tulsa Run is just a special event. It’s been around for almost four decades, and it has become one of those local bucket list items for a lot of people. Running the Tulsa Run is often a gateway for people to take their fitness to another level, and seeing this people on the course and crossing the finish line is pretty awesome.

My hope is that organizers of the race keep this course for a while. It’s harder, but it’s better. I’m not sure if all 9,000 people who ran it agree, but I’ll bet a lot of them will.

So another Tulsa Run is in the books, and a half marathon looms in less than three weeks. So far, so good. Fall race season is off to a pretty fun start.

Bob Doucette

Casey Nocket, creepytings and the inevitable collision of ‘look at me!’ and the outdoors

It was bound to happen, sooner rather than later.

A collision of forces, innocuous by themselves, but in combination pretty unfortunate. An affinity for the outdoors, social media and a desire to be noticed by a lot of people have brought us… creepytings.

Casey Nocket and her Creepytings vandalism.

Casey Nocket and her creepytings vandalism.

Creepytings is an Instagram gallery of photos that a woman named Casey Nocket created in which she photographs acryllic paintings she plasters on rock faces in the country’s national parks.

I’m sure some people found these stunts interesting or cool, but most public reaction has been harshly negative. And for good reason, as it’s not only defacing places that are set aside to remain pristine, but it’s also illegal.

The “art” in itself looks like graffiti intended to look like primitive cave paintings. At least that’s the impression I got. Photographs showcase the paintings, and sometimes heavily stylized images of her with her paintings. It’s very hipster-in-the-wild chic, I guess.

I’m not going to debate whether or not what Nocket did was wrong. It’s obvious it was. Whatever punishment she has coming can’t come soon enough.

And it would be easy to take shots at the younger generation that has embraced all things social media and photography. No hike goes undocumented, no selfie is one too many. Go Pros and “Go Poles” have changed the way we see the outdoors, and how we portray ourselves in it, or more accurately, the image we try to portray of ourselves. Whether it’s a thing of personal branding or just hunting for likes, the result is the same — there is a lot of media out there of people doing things outside.

I’ll admit to being at least partially guilty of that. The biggest reason I write in this space is to showcase the outdoors and the need for all of us to be out in it. When you’re in it, you learn to respect it. That’s my theory.

But on that note, we’ve got work to do.

I’m a huge proponent of my local urban wild space, Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness. It’s an awesome place where I can run trails and hike, and it’s within Tulsa’s city limits, 15 minutes from my front door.

But I get discouraged when I see stuff like this.

Someone's bad idea of "art" at Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness.

Someone’s bad idea of “art” at Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness.

That was all chalk, but there are other rock faces defaced with spray paint. Similar acts of vandalism have tagged a number of wilderness areas I’ve visited. This is not a new problem, though one that’s worth fighting.

What’s different is people (in this case, Nocket) making it so public, justifying it as “art,” and then publicizing it widely (before she succumbed to public backlash and made her Instagram account private).

So I see this in two ways. We’ve succeeded in getting people outdoors, at least to a certain extent.

But we’ve failed in terms of instilling the sense of responsibility people need to have in caring for wild places. The chalk art, the creepytings paintings, the video of two idiots hitting golf balls off a mountain summit — all cases of people doing decidedly non-awesome things outside.

Or maybe we haven’t totally failed. Perhaps that’s too harsh. But if Casey Nocket teaches us anything, it’s that we have a lot of work to do in terms of teaching people to respect and protect wilderness.

So let’s get this message out. If you don’t respect it, you won’t protect it. And if you don’t protect it, you won’t have it for much longer.

Bob Doucette