This weekend, the Tulsa River Parks Authority and the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition conducted another cleanup day at Turkey Mountain, but this time it was a little different. For the first time, the efforts focused on newly acquired land that had once been pegged for commercial development.
In 2014, a 60-acre tract of land on Turkey Mountain’s west side was offered to a developer for the purpose of building an outlet mall, a plan which brought about strong local opposition. So strong, in fact, that the proposal was scrapped and the developer moved on to another site. Shortly thereafter, the land was part of a sales tax proposal that would include its purchase by the city and addition to the River Parks system.
This was a huge victory for local conservationism, and on so many levels. Green space is good for the air, prevents erosion into the watershed, and expands wildlife habitat at Turkey Mountain. More importantly, it represents a shift in thinking in terms of proper land use — where commercial development does not trump conservation, but instead works with it. And as a nice bonus, it boosts Tulsa’s growing outdoor recreation economy by expanding the trails on which people can run, hike and ride.
But a lot has happened to that parcel in the months and years since it was targeted for a shopping center.
Large vehicles used for surveying created sizable, rutted “jeep trails” throughout the property. Hundreds of trees were removed and underbrush cleared, seemingly at random. And its accessibility to a nearby road and highway made it a convenient place for illegal trash dumping.
There’s not much we can do about the first two problems. Nature and time will have to take care of that. But the three-dozen or so people who showed up for the cleanup could definitely work on the third.
The River Parks Authority brought in a tractor with a front-end loader, two commercial dumpsters and a pickup. Volunteers showed up with loppers and a good supply of elbow grease. And then we set upon the mess.
Large trash piles contained all sorts of refuse: Old tires. Discarded TVs. Children’s books. Broken appliances. Construction supplies. A couple of old couches, a recliner, and a mattress set.
Some unsavory items also littered woods, but I won’t get into that. We also found a football that still held air (a little fun was had with that) and a carpenter’s level that still worked (that one went home with me).
What I really liked, however, was the assortment of people who came. Some folks were those you would expect: trail runners, mountain bikers, nature lovers and more. But there were also people who had never been there before, but heard about the work day and decided to come. Pretty cool stuff.
In the end, we filled both of those commercial dumpsters with illegally dumped trash. And in the weeks before, the River Parks Authority installed cable barriers and a locked gate to prevent future polluters from dumping their crap in the woods.
Back in 2014, a bunch of us decided it was not OK to mow down a forest to build a mall and a parking lot. Earlier this spring, voters decided to have the city buy the land to preserve it. And on Saturday, the reclamation project continued by cleaning it up. Years from now, the forest will finish reclaiming it, much to the benefit of local wildlife, the city, and its residents.