Last week I wrote the about Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area, and gave some reasons why it is an important place to preserve. Namely, it is the only place in the city limits that is left wild and can give those in the biking, hiking and running communities a place to go that uniquely challenges them while providing that challenge in a natural setting.
Urban wilderness areas are, for the cities in which they are located, major assets to their respective communities.
It wasn’t an accident that I wrote about it last week. The reason is because there is a developer in Tulsa who wants to build an amusement park and race car museum at the very place Tulsa’s leaders have decided to keep wild.
Jimmy Dejarnette has been working behind the scenes, talking with city council members and the mayor, about his proposal for Turkey Mountain. He calls it Tulsa Harbour and wants to build it on Turkey Mountain’s south side. He’s claiming that the project would create jobs, help develop the Arkansas River and bring in tourist dollars from all over the state and nation.
In a prepared statement, he even claims to want to tie it to rail transit to downtown and that his project is not primarily designed for profit. He says that Tulsa Harbour would leave the wilderness area mostly intact.
Lastly, he says that no other spot will work for Tulsa Harbour.
I have a problem with this proposal on many levels.
For starters, Dejarnette has failed to understand the impact of an amusement park on wilderness. Its proximity would add noise, light and traffic that would invariably take away the “natural” element of Turkey Mountain, and it would possibly be something that would drive wildlife away. People come to Turkey Mountain, in part, to experience that wildlife and get away from the commotion of man-made things.
Dejarnette also touts jobs. Yes, an amusement park would create jobs. But aside from the museum, they would mostly be seasonal, minimum-wage positions. That’s fine, but let’s not overestimates the payroll impact of Tulsa Harbour.
Thirdly, I think his claim to be “non-profit” is disingenuous. In making it sound like this is a charitable gift to the city and its residents, he makes this sound like he is not concerned about making a profit. He may be telling the truth, but I have a hard time believing that there is no profit motive here. I’d rather Dejarnette say he wants to develop this is a money-making business and be honest about it than leave open the question of this work of “charity.”
Lastly, I have a huge problem with Dejarnette’s claim that no other site will work. This is nonsense. As it is, he wants the city to move a sewer treatment facility somewhere else, which I suppose would help keep the smells away from the amusement park. So there are actually two major reasons why Turkey Mountain isn’t suitable: he asks the city to spend millions to relocate an existing piece of major infrastructure, and he wants to chop up an area that already has a designated use. Those two reasons alone are enough to tell any developer that Turkey Mountain is a poor site for an amusement park development.
But even more to the point is that he thinks the city is devoid of other places for an amusement park. This also is nonsense. He’s been given other options on the river, and my guess is there are plenty of places inside Tulsa elsewhere. Since he has mentioned wanting to connect the amusement park to downtown, why not look for site in or near there? Developing a destination downtown, in the way Oklahoma City has done, should be a goal for the city and any developer with ambition should want to jump at that.
Needless to say, there has been opposition to the plan, namely by Tulsa’s running and biking communities. Ordinary people who enjoy hiking, walking their dog or spending time with family outdoors there are likewise against it.
Thankfully, more powerful entities have opposed it as well.
The city councilor whose ward includes Turkey Mountain, Jeannie Cue, said she doesn’t support Tulsa Harbour in its current form. Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, who is as big of a supporter of economic development as anyone, has likewise come out against it. The Tulsa River Parks Authority also released a brief statement about the issue, saying, “River Parks does not support the Tulsa Harbour development proposal.”
Also opposing the proposal is the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which is a major donor toward and stakeholder in the development of the River Parks system, including Turkey Mountain.
And the Tulsa World in an editorial expressed its stand in opposition to the Tulsa Harbour as it is currently proposed.
This is an impressive roster of supporters for Turkey Mountain’s preservation as an urban wilderness. But there are plenty of opinions out there that voiced support for developing Turkey Mountain, even if it means wrecking the urban wilderness.
What this means is that there needs to be continued vigilance on this issue, and to educate the public on the value of urban wilderness.
More to the point, we need to educate Tulsans about ourselves. Tulsa has strong biking and running communities, but as active as they are, the fact remains that our city, like the rest of our state, is woefully inactive. As a city and a state, we spend too little time being active, too little time outdoors, and too few hours being engaged with the world around us.
Conversely, we spend too much time playing video games, watching TV and eating junk. We spend far too much time literally gorging ourselves to death with unhealthy food and drink while barely lifting a finger to burn all the calories we ingest. And our lack of interaction with nature has created a culture where many folks recoil when the words “environment” or “conservation” are uttered.
The results: An epidemic of obesity, child obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Oklahoma regularly ranks among the least fit, most fat and unhealthiest states in the nation. At the same time, we have very little wild land left, and less of it every time we turn around. We need to put a higher premium on our health as well as our natural heritage. A step in that direction is recognizing that a place like Turkey Mountain helps fill both those roles.
If you agree, there are things you can do. For starters, you can sign a petition opposing the commercial development of Turkey Mountain.
If you live in Tulsa, you can also contact your city councilor and voice your opinion. Find out who that representative is and how to contact them here.
Lastly, be a vocal advocate for Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness. Tell people how great it is. Go there and use it. Bring some friends, especially those who have never been.
There is room in Tulsa for Turkey Mountain Wilderness Area and Tulsa Harbour. But there isn’t room for both. Turkey Mountain’s use has already been established. As a yet-to-be built amusement park, Tulsa Harbour needs to find safe harbor somewhere else.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088