Sparking the mind outside: Redbud Valley Nature Preserve

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A lot of space on this site is preoccupied with trying to do big things outside. But not everything done outside needs to be dominated by a hard run, big dropoffs or deep wilderness adventures. Sometimes getting your fix can be a more leisurely affair.

This is especially true when it comes to instilling an appreciation for the outdoors with kids. There is a place north and east of where I live that fits the bill quite well.

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The Redbud Valley Nature Preserve is northeast of Tulsa near the small town of Catoosa. Just past some serious quarries, the preserve is tucked away at the base of a length of limestone cliffs and bordered by Bird Creek. The preserve has a one-mile trail that loops over a ridge, down to the creek and back over. A side trail hugs the cliffs more closely.

What I like about this place is it allows you to get a good dose of woodsy, rugged outdoor scenery without the requisite commitment you might expect in larger, less forgiving wilderness environments.

That’s good for anyone, but particularly good for kids.

Let’s be realistic: Some people have families with kids that are up for long, grueling hikes and backpacking trips. But those families are rare. For most people, getting kids outdoors in wilder environments is something done in small doses.

To that aim, Redbud is a good cure. I was there recently with family, which included a couple of nephews who were ready to roll.

The trail starts easy enough, with this stairstep ascent toward the top of the ridge.

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You can follow the main trail or turn into an area where a side trail runs right by a lengthy stretch of exposed limestone cliffs.

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Some of the contours of these cliffs are hard to resist for the little guys.

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More scenes like this go on for a little more than a quarter mile or so. Small caves open up in some portions of the cliffs, and at least one of them is a hibernation spot for bats. Avid climbers will spy out a ton of potential bouldering problems, and I have to say it was really tempting to try out a few lines for the heck of it. However, being a preserve, visitors are asked not to climb as to not disturb potential wildlife habitat. That takes some restraint.

Anyway, here are some more scenes from the cliffs.

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Pretty awesome, right?

Eventually the trail works its way past the cliffs and rejoins the main trail, which continues to loop southwest back toward the trailhead. This includes mellower hiking, some open spaces through the trees and even a bench set up over a scenic overlook.

The main trail then heads down the ridge (rather steeply, but not overly so) before taking you back to the trailhead parking lot.

I mentioned earlier that there are some rules at Redbud. If you go here, it’s a hiking-only trip. In order to leave wildlife and natural foliage as undisturbed as possible, the managers of the preserve have asked that people keep their picnics confined to a pavillion at the trailhead and to leave their bikes at home.

But what you get is an unspoiled piece of acreage which offers interesting competition for the things that often occupy the minds of your little ones. Those rugged cliffs, thick woods and wildlife are the kinds of sights that can spark imaginations. I can remember going on short hikes in the mountains of Colorado as a kid, and the memories of those times stick with me today. No doubt, my love of the outdoors has its roots in the sylvan settings I stumbled upon in the depths of alpine forests years ago.

This is also a great way to unplug. Not just for your kids, but you as well. Studies show that many people spend as much as eight hours a day staring at a screen of some sort every day, and that this has negative consequences on our health. This can be countered by a prescription of time in the woods, which can bring measurable health benefits.

But back to the kids. I believe strongly in instilling appreciation of the outdoors to children. If they never see it, they’ll never respect it — their lives will be defined only what they know from the tightly controlled environs of suburbia or wherever. The future of conservation begins with young people who care about the outdoors, assuming the outdoors is something they love.

One of the great things about Redbud is it’s free entertainment. That’s right — no admission fee at all. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. You can get more information about the preserve as well as the Oxley Nature Center here. Check it out and have fun!

IF YOU GO: From Tulsa, take Interstate 44 east, then exit at 161st East Avenue. Drive north for about four miles. The entrance to the parking lot trailhead and the visitor’s center will be on your left.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

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