Trail work, conservation taking the next step at Turkey Mountain

Seen on a recent trail cleanup day. Volunteers hauled out trash and did some pruning and basic trail maintenance at Turkey Mountain in Tulsa.

Interesting things are underway on my local trails. Turkey Mountain used to be a place that was occasionally used but often neglected. As it became a more popular place for people to go, we saw more intensive efforts to clean up trash and repair badly damaged sections of trail.

But lately, stewardship of Turkey Mountain has matured. All of the other activities are still happening, but there is an increasing emphasis on making this patch of woods and its trail system more sustainable.

Earlier this winter, a work day included some routine trash pickup and pruning to keep the trails clear. But we also spent some time on habitat restoration.

Part of the recent work at Turkey Mountain: Closing off rogue trails and marking them as ecological restoration areas. Public lands entities have used this practice for years in an effort to repair areas damaged by misuse.

What this entailed was closing off rogue trails that had been marked earlier in the year and installing signage to tell people to let that area be for a while, and let nature take its course in getting it back to a more natural – and sustainable – state.

The National Parks System and the National Forest System has used similar practices to promote healing/repair to sections of trails that had become too worn or were chronic erosion problems. It’s become standard practice, especially in environmentally sensitive areas, like alpine tundra. Damage in those ecosystems can take several years to become whole again.

Habitat restoration work in progress at Turkey Mountain in Tulsa.

At Turkey Mountain, the scars will heal much faster. Temperate woodlands are remarkably resilient. But heavy usage – by hikers, runners, cyclists and others – means a lot more wear and tear. And to be frank, many of these trails were not made with much attention given to the effects of erosion. That’s made several trails turn into ugly, rutted washouts, brown gashes exposing rocks and tree roots that promise to get worse. So I imagine we’re going to be doing restoration work on several areas for many years to come.

More recently, a group went out to scout out more areas where trail work can be done. There are big plans for Turkey Mountain, ideas that focus on making trails more durable while keeping the park as wild as it can be. Some trouble spots were identified, and in looking at these places I walked some paths I hadn’t seen before. There are ponds all over Turkey Mountain, but I didn’t know that one of them (one I hadn’t seen before) was a substantial beaver pond, complete with a lodge. It’s a good reminder that while the park is in the middle of a city, it’s still home to numerous species of wildlife. We enjoy recreating there, but for these creatures, Turkey Mountain is home. Food for thought not only as we work there, but also in terms of how we play there.

The River Parks Authority in Tulsa is working with volunteers and experts to identify future areas of trail work that need to be done at Turkey Mountain. On a broader scale. RPA is working toward implementing a master plan for Turkey Mountain aimed at balancing outdoor recreation needs and conservation for long-term sustainability.

More big news from Turkey Mountain is coming. The pandemic delayed or canned some plans, but with COVID-19 finally starting to loosen its grip, there’s a chance that a lot of the education programming, athletic events and other activities that were put on hold can resume.

It’s not lost on me that just a few years ago, the future of Turkey Mountain was in doubt. Single-year leases, a hodge-podge of privately owned parcels and a proposal to turn a chunk of it into an outlet mall made the park’s outlook unclear. It doesn’t seem that way now.

Volunteers scope out places for future trail work projects.
  • Bob Doucette

2 thoughts on “Trail work, conservation taking the next step at Turkey Mountain

  1. When I started reading your post I was thinking how much things have changed for this park over the past few years.
    I remember you writing about the development that threatened the area. It sounds like your group has made substantial progress in protecting and preserving this area.
    You’ve gone from trying to save it to making it better.

    • First off, I appreciate you noticing that! We started out as a random group of people who met up, trying to figure out what to do about the development situation. And since then, it’s evolved so much. As as Turkey Mountain. Volunteers have poured a lot of work into it, and just as important, the group developed a good reputation with city leaders and other stakeholders. They concluded we weren’t just another NIMBY group, and it’s made a huge difference not only to us, but the park itself.

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