Who we are: Cleaning up Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness

Matt Carver gives the crew cleanup instructions. (Ken TZ Childress photo)

Matt Carver gives the crew cleanup instructions. (Ken TZ Childress photo)

In the past, I’ve mentioned that it’s only on the worst weather days (really rainy or overpoweringly hot) that Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness sees few visitors.

No, it’s usually quite the opposite. Tulsa’s prime spot for hiking, mountain biking and trail running attracts crowds pretty much all the time. On any given day, the parking lot is at least half full. But on Saturday morning, it was packed.

This time, however, it wasn’t for the usual exercise or recreational purposes. The folks who frequent Turkey Mountain gathered on a chilly morning to give back.

The River Parks Authority, working with TATUR Racing and Hammerhead Bicycles, organized a cleanup and trail maintenance day to give the ole gal a fresh polish.

Volunteers fill up trash bags on the far north side of Turkey Mountain. (Ken TZ Childress photo)

Volunteers fill up trash bags on the far north side of Turkey Mountain. (Ken TZ Childress photo)

Being in the middle of a city, lots of people come here. Human nature being what it is, some of them leave behind their trash. About 80 folks showed up to pick up their mess.

I joined a group of that went to the north side of the park to take care of some trash dumping that occurs near an adjacent industrial area. Busted TVs, rotten furniture, old mattresses — you name it, we hauled it.

A small group of us went a little further in, off-trail to an overlook where a small homeless campsite had been built. Camping of any kind is not allowed on Turkey Mountain, so even when the homeless set up shop, their stuff has to go.

It wasn't just empty water bottles littering the park. Box springs, mattresses and furniture were also dumped here. (Ken TZ Childress photo)

It wasn’t just empty water bottles littering the park. Box springs, mattresses and furniture were also dumped here. (Ken TZ Childress photo)

This particular campsite (which wasn’t inhabited at the time) had a tent, tarps, a sleeping bag and a whole bunch of miscellaneous junk that had accumulated. It looked like someone had been there within the last week or so.

We took the tent and tarp down. Hauled off some plywood. Drained a few unopened beer cans. Basically scraped the site clean.

A part of me felt bad. This was someone’s stuff. They might have been counting on it for shelter that night.

But then I found other things that set me straight. Things like old condom wrappers, duct tape, a knife and a toy cap gun. The presence of this stuff probably is not as nefarious as I thought, but at the same time it gave me pause. Plenty of people come out here alone, some of them women. If someone jumped you and stuck that fake gun in your back (where you couldn’t see that it wasn’t real), it could be trouble. A knife, duct tape and condoms? In a worst-case scenario, we’re talking rape kit.

The homeless camp we cleaned out. (Ken TZ Childress photo)

The homeless camp we cleaned out. (Ken TZ Childress photo)

Chances are, nothing like that was going on. We also found a half-empty bottle of perfume. So who knows. It could have been a woman camping up there. Or whoever, and they occasionally had amorous (or potentially paying?) company. Gross, I know. But whatever. This isn’t the place for it. So the campsite was toast.

Others in our group scoured the trails, a creekbed and the woodlands, hauling off a bunch of trash. In other parts of the park, a whole lot of other people did the same. We may have hauled out a few hundred pounds of garbage.

Some of the other groups found the remains of one-pot meth labs. Again, spooky and not cool. The police came out to take care of those messes.

Turkey Mountain thug life. This toy cap gun was one of the strange things we found at the camp site. (Ken TZ Childress photo)

Turkey Mountain thug life. This toy cap gun was one of the strange things we found at the camp site. (Ken TZ Childress photo)

At this point I’d like to emphasize that Turkey Mountain is safe. The worst crimes that happen there are car break-ins at the trailhead parking lot. I’ve never seen anyone there except cyclists, runners, hikers and a few people trying to fish the ponds. Aside from the occasional trash sightings, it’s a beautiful place.

But it’s also in the middle of a city. The Tulsa metro has a million people in it. Out of that million you’re going to have a few who don’t mind littering, don’t mind dumping trash, and don’t mind finding a secluded place to mix their drugs or set up an illegal camp.

Thankfully, there are also other kinds of people here. Folks like Ken “TZ” Childress, an ultrarunner who cares about this place as much as anyone. Guys like Matt Carver, who works for the River Parks Authority, the dude who organized the cleanup and worked as hard out in the dirt as anyone. And dozens of others who picked up trash, performed trail work and trimmed back undergrowth.

Some of the trash we collected just on the north side of the wilderness area. More was collected elsewhere. (Ken TZ Childress photo)

Some of the trash we collected just on the north side of the wilderness area. More was collected elsewhere. (Ken TZ Childress photo)

Endurance athletes and hiking enthusiasts are a funny bunch. Their time outside gives them a special appreciation for outdoor spaces (the same can be said of climbers, too). All of us could have done something else that morning. Plenty of us have races to train for. And it’s Saturday, for cryin’ out loud. But the crowds came and did the work. I’d like to think that group outnumbered those who choose to pollute.

When it was done, hot dogs, chili, Frito chili pies, pop and beer awaited. A nice reward for a few hours’ work. But better than that was seeing a solid turnout on a cold morning, and my favorite trail place cleaned up to a nice shine.

The fully loaded truck. (River Parks photo)

The fully loaded truck. (River Parks photo)

In time, I’m sure we’ll have to do it again. Human nature dictates that people will keep doing what they do, good or bad. But I’m also sure that when asked, the benefactors of Turkey Mountain will show up, clean up the trash, work on the trails and do all the dirty work needed to put the place in order again. Because that is in their nature.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

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