I can remember a day when we would do cleanup and trail maintenance days at Turkey Mountain when there might have been a couple dozen of us out there. And we were dang pleased with the turnout.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and we routinely draw well over a hundred people coming out for a few hours on a Saturday to pick up trash, haul dirt, spread seeds and trim back limbs that block the trails. Real grunt work, but more people seem to be happy to do it.
We had one of those days last weekend. The morning was chilly and bright, and it warmed up nicely as the day wore on. If our turnout would have been low, I was have understood it — gorgeous outdoor days in late winter are usually hard to find, and this one was about as good as it gets.
But still, the volunteers came. Teams headed out, loppers and garbage bags in hand, to scour the trails of trash and do some trimming. High school kids, college groups, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, and just about anyone else you could think of showed up looking for a job to do. We shored up a needy section of trail, which meant a lot of time with shovels, tampers and wheelbarrows.
Cleanup days at Turkey Mountain were once the sole project of Tulsa’s River Parks Authority, which has jurisdiction over Turkey Mountain. But they’ve gotten a partner over the last couple of years in the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition.
If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you know who the TUWC is. If not, a quick explainer…
The TUWC formed when it was announced that a developer planned to build an outlet mall on a section of the western fringe of Turkey Mountain. So at its outset, the TUWC was the voice rallying the outdoor community and Tulsa residents in general to oppose the plan, which would have leveled dozens of acres of woodlands and created substantial erosion, pollution and overall degradation to the land. TUWC’s arguments proved successful, and the developer moved on. Better still, the section of land in question has been set aside to be kept free of commercial development, allowed to once again become part of the urban wilderness area at Turkey Mountain. Score one for outdoor enthusiasts.
But there are side benefits to this effort as well. The TUWC made a conscious effort to not just be a group opposing something. It wanted to be for something, namely, preserving and promoting urban wild spaces like Turkey Mountain. As part of that, the TUWC got involved with these cleanup days, leveraging its visibility in the community to rally people to the task.
The results have been stunning. As I said before, 25 to 30 people at past cleanup days was considered a pretty good turnout. Since TUWC’s creation, participation has more than quadrupled.
TUWC’s vocal presence going back to the fall of 2014 had a major impact on preserving green space. But it also elevated the public’s knowledge of what Turkey Mountain was, why it’s important, and what you can do there. Anecdotally, I can tell you that I see far more people hiking, biking and running there than what I witnessed back in 2011 when I first moved to Tulsa. Recent surveys show that visitors to Turkey Mountain outnumber those visiting some of the city’s most popular tourist draws on any given weekend.
So we know there are more users of the park. But we also know that there are more people willing to invest their time and energy not just in enjoying it, but caring for it. This speaks well of the city’s residents and the future of conservation in northeast Oklahoma. It also points toward a continuing mission that goes far beyond an opposition campaign. I have to say, I like that trend.