I’ve been heartened by the number of people who have showed up at different volunteer efforts surrounding Turkey Mountain.
We had a huge turnout for a cleanup and trail maintenance day back in January — the biggest such event that Turkey Mountain has ever seen. When a mall developer announced plans to build an outlet mall on the west side of Turkey Mountain, thousands signed a petition to oppose it, and hundreds have attended forums and written letters expressing a growing sentiment in Tulsa: to Keep Turkey Mountain wild.
I shouldn’t be surprised that during the city’s annual creek cleanup event, big numbers would show up. But still, it was a sunny, beautiful Saturday morning, a day where you couldn’t blame someone for playing hookey.
But that’s not what happened. It seemed like we had more than a hundred people there, from little kids to retirees. I saw a lot of familiar faces from the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition while spying a good number of trail runners and mountain bikers. But there were also nature enthusiasts, military veterans and even a school’s robotics team. It was a nice cross-section of the community.
The group got a debriefing from the city’s stormwater guru, were given gear for the cleanup and then separated into teams. Folks would scour Mooser Creek itself as well as a few of its tributaries and hillsides that are part of the watershed.
A little bit about Mooser Creek: It’s the city’s only creek that has not been altered for stormwater purposes, so it is, more than anything else in the city, as close to being in its natural state as you can get. The waters of Mooser Creek are surprisingly clear and full of life — fish, frogs, snakes, turtles and whatnot. It’s a critical component to Turkey Mountain, feeds the Arkansas River and is quite pretty.
But its north bank borders a commercial area and a busy interstate highway. So trash abounds, fouling the creek and, ultimately, the Arkansas River. Mooser Creek was an ideal candidate for the annual creek cleanup.
In addition to picking up litter, organizers wanted to make a game of it by offering a prize for the most unusual piece of trash collected. We found some weird stuff.
In my group, we uncovered a baseball, golf balls, some high-heel shoes and a motorcycle seat in a tributary creek. That, plus several bags of trash or the more ordinary kind. One fella found something more nefarious — a bunch of syringes and a drug stash. Part of the deal, I suppose.
Other groups found a computer, a blender, a creepy baby doll, an electronic thermometer, an unopened beer can and a bike helmet, among other treasures. The computer was the big winner. I’m pretty sure it didn’t boot up.
What I learned: I can’t speak for the other groups, but I can speak for mine. I’m not surprised that the people who were on my team spent time volunteering. For them, Turkey Mountain has high importance — it’s where they run, hike and bike. I see them volunteer for a lot of stuff like this.
What encouraged me the most was their kids. A girl and two boys, all somewhere between 5 and 8, knew why they were there. They were there, and I paraphrase their words, to help the planet. The kids were gamers, too. No whining, and they stuck it out till the end, getting in the weeds, picking up litter and stuffing it in their bags. Gotta respect that.
So another volunteer day is in the books, with bigger numbers and positive results. I know a lot of this space is about fitness or adventures, but it’s good to be reminded that what makes the outdoors special doesn’t happen in a vacuum. With so many man-made pressures threatening what’s left of our wild places, it’s important to remember that as much as we receive from nature we need to give back. When it comes to nature, it’s mostly defenseless against us unless we step up to protect it. So if that means signing a petition, educating our kids, writing public officials, or just spending a couple of hours picking up trash, every bit counts. Do what you can.
— Bob Doucette