Welcome to the neighborhood: Cyclists, racing and a city’s biggest block party on Cry Baby Hill

Cyclists race by as crowds cheer – and drink – at the Riverside Criterium of Tulsa Tough on Cry Baby Hill.

When I got up Sunday morning, the parade was already started. Out my window, lines of people were strolling down the hill, coolers and lawn chairs in hand. Some were in costume. Most were dressed for the heat. Some were already half-tanked.

A typical Sunday morning for the third day of Tulsa Tough, an annual cycling race series and festival that has bike enthusiasts from across the country descend on T-town with all the spandex anyone could ever want. Crowds gather for all three days of Tulsa Tough, but it’s the third day, on Cry Baby Hill, that folks really get revved up.

And it happens in my neighborhood.

A little about my ‘hood: it’s tough to define. It’s older, right on the edge of downtown Tulsa, and built on the banks of the Arkansas River. It’s a mix of people, from bohemian to bums, families and retirees, living in stately older homes, shotgun houses, or in open fields not yet developed. It’s a place where you can watch incredible sunsets from your porch, or view transients stumbling down an alley. I feel perfectly safe here, but sometimes there are police helicopters and searchlights. Typical urban neighborhood, I suppose, and the site for the Riverside Criterium of Tulsa Tough.

So let’s talk about Tulsa Tough. This was the 13th year for the event, which attracts top cyclists from across the country and the world. For three days, they race through different courses downtown, and as the years have gone by the crowds have grown. There’s also a gran fondo ride that goes well outside the city and a townie ride where anyone with a set of wheels can take a more leisurely trek.

The climax of Tulsa Tough is the Riverside Criterium. It’s the toughest course, with steep inclines on every lap. I’m sure that’s something cyclists can appreciate and dread, but for most people, the Riverside Criterium is all about the scene that is Cry Baby Hill. It draws the biggest, most raucous crowds of the entire weekend, and I’d say most people are there more for the party than the races. Folks show up by the thousands.

It wasn’t always that way. When Tulsa Tough started, people in the neighborhood gathered at a house or two to watch the races, guzzle some beer and cheer them on. One legend has it that regulars at the Sound Pony, a downtown dive bar frequented by cyclists and other endurance athletes, started making the Sunday Tulsa Tough races a thing. However it started, someone built this party scene, and man, did it grow.

Today, the Riverview neighborhood is choked with Tulsa Tough spectators and revelers. There’s lots of skin, vats of beer, weird costumes and creepy baby-doll heads on sticks. There are a bunch of whistles and people in referee uniforms helping the crowds “mind the gap” so cyclists can actually freely race without fear of running into errant fans. It’s grown so big that the food truck cabal decided to come, and live music on a stage popped up. Debauchery of all sorts happens, though most people keep it in check. I think. Anyway, I tell people that Cry Baby Hill is an annual excuse to get drunk on a Sunday morning, and I think that’s mostly true.

Some of the cyclists get into it. If they’re not concentrated on actually winning, they’ll slow down and take a brew from the crowd before continuing. Cops are there in droves, as are paramedic crews. It’s hot out there, and sometimes the combination of a 12-pack of Natty Light and high heat/humidity doesn’t work out too well.

You might think the description of my neighborhood, the event, and the crowd is negative, but let me shut that down right now: I dig this scene. Endurance sports don’t get a lot of love, so when the hordes arrive to cheer on the competitors, I’m all for it. Come on down, invade the ‘hood for a few hours and have a good time. Too many parts of town (any town, really) are too buttoned down, becoming regimented to the point of lifelessness. My neighborhood is a trip pretty much every day, and I guess it’s fitting that Day Three of Tulsa Tough is sort of a holiday of weirdness for my weird little place.

That all of it surrounds cycling hits home, too. I don’t race, but I spend a decent amount of time in the saddle these days. I chose where I live so I could bike to work. It’s also close to a paved trail system that’s great for longer rides. I’m not a racer, but I get these people even if my ride costs less than the accessories they attach to theirs.

So how did all this go down for me? Well, as the crowds clogged my streets, I mowed my yard. Picked up a half-empty can of Coors Light kindly donated to my lawn. I dumped the rest out, recycled the can, then jumped on my bike and rode to the center of the action.

While recording part of the race from a more “family friendly” part of the course, a half-baked spectator noticed by Denver Broncos ballcap and proceeded to talk smack. Turns out, he was a Chiefs fan. They got us twice last year, but I reminded him that the Broncos have three Lombardis in the case to Kansas City’s one. He was forceful at first (I was hoping that this wouldn’t turn into a real fight), but chilled out long enough to have a more nuanced discussion about how the AFC West was going to play out. His girlfriend got bored, so we bro-hugged and they left.

I rode to a few more spots, taking pics and taking in the scene. Everywhere I went, the streets were lined with people, sometimes ten deep. Whistles would blow, a chase vehicle would zip by, and then a couple of cyclists would follow. Behind them, the whirring gears of a few dozen more cyclists, bunched up in the peloton, breezed by. The crowd cheered, yelled, rang their cowbells and took a swig from coozy-lined cans and red Solo cups.

This scene repeated itself for several hours until the last pro races were done. Podiums were mounted and trophies awarded. Fans eventually stumbled back into their houses, or toward their cars, and not a small number of them took the next day off.

What does this all mean? I’m not sure about the origins of Tulsa Tough. There’s a healthy cycling community in Tulsa, but not more than any other mid-sized city. Even so, Tulsa Tough is a huge success, an international draw, seemingly getting bigger every year. That an obscure endurance sport can become so huge here is encouraging, even if half the appeal is just showing up for the party. It’s a weird, geared-up and beer-soaked thread in a community tapestry that might otherwise be mildly bland.

Come next June, we’ll do it all over again. See ya next time for Year 14 of Tulsa Tough. Cry Baby Hill awaits.

Bob Doucette

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Of thrilling victory and tragic defeat: A tale of two climbs on El Capitan

El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park. (Wikipedia commons/Little Mountain 5 photo)

Years ago, ABC used to air a weekend program called “Wide World of Sports.” It was a staple for many who were interested in watching events that weren’t part of the “big four” of American sports, that being football, baseball, basketball and hockey.

But the show’s most lasting imprint on popular culture didn’t come from the sports it televised. It came from its intro, a montage of clips from a variety of contests. The narrator speaks of “the thrill of victory,” then cues up a downhill skier wiping out violently during a race before continuing, “and the agony of defeat.”

The stakes of sports are what make them compelling. The higher the stakes, the greater the drama. Nowhere is that more true than in the mountains, and we saw both the thrill and the agony play out within days of each other on one of the most iconic rock faces on the planet.

On June 2, climbers Jason Wells and Tim Klein were on El Capitan’s Freeblast route when they fell, ultimately plummeting more than 1,000 feet to their deaths. Both were accomplished, experienced climbers on a section of the route described as well within their abilities when the fall occurred.

On Wednesday, June 6, climbers Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell were also at El Capitan, trying to set speed records on the Nose. They accomplished this – twice. The new speed record for climbing this route stands at 1 hour, 58 minutes and 7 seconds, an astonishing feat on a route that takes most people days to complete.

Two solid climbing teams, two very different outcomes, on the same mountain. Wells and Klein are mourned; Honnold and Caldwell are celebrated. Only four days separated them.

This is the dualism of mountaineering. Obviously, there are other possible outcomes. You can get turned back by weather or route conditions, or perhaps forced into retreat by illness or injury. But there are few sports where the reward for success is, in reality, so modest, and the toll of failure (even if you did everything right) so painfully high.

It’s something I think about every time summer draws near. Exploring the mountains is becoming more popular every year. Most aren’t climbing El Capitan, but they are venturing into wild places that aren’t inherently safe or forgiving. Many thousands cut their teeth on the easier peaks, then try tougher challenges as time goes on. The vast majority do OK. But some don’t make it back. That’s how it works in the high country.

I won’t waste time grousing about the unnecessary chances people take, or social media pressures to go bigger each time. That’s been covered. But it does make me stop and think. Last year, scores (hundreds?) of people successfully climbed Capitol Peak in Colorado’s Elk Mountains. But within a span of six weeks, five people died on that same mountain. Other peaks, in Colorado and elsewhere, had similar stories, I’m sure.

It would also be silly to ask why people bother, given the risks of climbing, mountaineering and backcountry exploration. Mountains draw us in. Wild places fascinate us. Summit views, the sounds of the woods and the quiet of wilderness are always going to be a draw. The good parts, and the feeling of accomplishment, have their own special allure. That’s our version of the thrill of victory.

But I suppose it’s worth considering the agony of defeat. I’ve had a few close scrapes, but have come out of those OK. Others haven’t, even if they have many times before.

Maybe that’s the lesson from Yosemite Valley last week, just in time for the crowds who are heading into the mountains now.

Bob Doucette

Sharing the love of trail running

Just one scene on my local trails.

Summer heat doesn’t excite me. But those daylight hours sure do.

Sunsets that start pushing the nine o’clock hour mean I have that much more time to do things outside. I had my eye on spring and summer when I asked my weekly run group if they’d be interested in doing some trail running.

In case you don’t know, I started leading a Friday evening run group through my local gym. Early on, we kept it close to home, running the streets near downtown Tulsa where the paths were more predictable and there was at least a semblance of street lights. All that is absent on the trails, and I wasn’t about to take people who were new to trail running for a night run. Even with headlamps, that’s a lot to ask of a trail running newbie. So I waited for the days to get longer.

For our first outing, we did a simple 3.5-mile loop. It’s one I’ve done dozens of times before, with a sweet cruise down a wooded ridgeline, then a roller-coaster, technical uphill climb back to the trailhead. My road runners weren’t quite used to the sustained uphill that comes with trails, or the steepness those inclines present. And don’t forget the tripping hazards. I guess I should confess that the only one who bit it that night was me.

Last week, it was the mostly the same crew, but with a few new faces. Most were, again, road runners who hadn’t been on these trails much, if at all.

I took them down that same ridge but chose a different path for our return to the trailhead. It’s one of my favorites, one that meanders down a ravine and across a now-dry creek bed before beginning a steady, switchbacking uphill ascent that doesn’t let up much. It’s technical and difficult, and one small slice of it is too steep to run. That part of the route is everything I love about trail running, cloaked it woodlands and scented with the sweet smells of springtime in the forest.

We’re all in decent shape. Some of the gang is clocking in at 23 minutes or less on their 5Ks (not me, of course). But everyone comes back from these trail runs a little humbled by the challenge. Twice I’ve asked if any of them wanted a little more, and both times they’ve all said they were cool with calling it a night. They enjoyed it but knew when it was time to head for the house.

In the past, I’ve run with groups who’d chill out at the trailhead, drink beer or maybe go for tacos. We’d talk about running, but also everything else about the outdoors: hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, you name it. I’ve found some kindred spirits in those groups and more than once, we’ve hit the road to hike distant trails and climb mountains big and small. Trail running is a gateway drug to all things outdoors that I cherish.

But the basics of it are what’s best. After that first run, one of the fellas talked about how much he enjoyed just being in the woods. No cars, no machines, none of that. Only the sounds of the forest and his footfalls. Being out there calmed his mind, he said.

Man, I can relate. I nodded in agreement, thinking about how a few years ago, in the months after I lost my job due to a layoff and weeks later, lost my oldest brother to cancer, it was running on these very same trails that proved to be the best medicine. I was hurting bad. But the earthen paths through the trees got me through. Years later, the trails opened a whole new chapter in my life.

I know that’s true for a lot of people. My story isn’t unique. But a lot of people could benefit from coming here, even if it’s just for a stroll. Being in wild places is a healthy thing.

And I guess that’s why these runs are special to me. I get to share these paths, these woods, and everything they hold. I get to take people to all my favorite places, “secret” routes that I discovered a long time ago. Maybe they’ll get what I got. Perhaps they’ll gain something different, but equally good.

We’ll keep running our downtown streets. I’m sure as the weeks plow into the summer, those will be some really hot, uncomfortable outings. But the long, sweltering days of summer will also give us enough daylight to take special trips to the trails. One thing is for certain: It’ll be worth the sweat.

The run group after a fun few miles on the trails. It’ll be a new route for them each time we go.

Bob Doucette

What happens when you’re not feeling the long runs?

A scene from one of my long run routes. Frankly, I haven’t been feeling the long runs lately.

I was out hiking the other day when I noticed, in the distance, a familiar landmark along the river. It reminded me of my turnaround point while training for a half marathon last fall. I stood there, high on a wooded ridge, contemplating what went into training for that race.

One of the strongest thoughts that crossed my mind: I don’t miss those long runs.

That surprised me. I typically need a few weeks to let my mind settle and my body heal after a big race. But now it feels different. The thought of lacing ‘em up and heading out for a 12-mile, or 20-mile, training run makes me reflexively draw back, even though three months have passed.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. For the past seven years, I’ve run a number of 15Ks, half marathons, 25Ks, a marathon, and other odd-distance races going anywhere from five to 25 miles, road and trail. But this year, I’m skipping one of my favorite trail races and bailed on another for the fourth straight year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still running. The weekly Friday run group is a major blessing to me (we had three new runners Friday!), and I do plenty of training runs throughout the week. I’m also getting a kick out of 5Ks again.

And yes, the thought of knocking down another 26.2, or snagging a PR in the half, or even bagging my first ultra has some appeal. But the work it takes to get there, to perform how I want to perform, elicits a big “eh,” and I move on.

One side of me thinks this is wrong, reinforced by the popular notion that you must run more, run farther, run faster, run wilder trails and get more extreme.

When you first started running and met more experienced runners, they probably encouraged you to try something harder. Ran a 5K, you say? Train for the 15K. Got that done? You’re a step away from a half marathon, so sign up! Got a half under your belt? May as well go for the full. You’re a marathoner? Try an ultra. That first 5K must lead you to a hundred-miler and a buckle or you’ve failed as a runner.

So you dive into all things running. Buy the gear. Be the dirtbag. Grow the beard. Do all the things, and be sure to photograph your black toenails, bulging blisters and trail scrapes. And then, of course, share those images on the Trail and Ultra Running Facebook page or on your Instagram, because you have to show everyone how extreme you are, how much you’ve bought in, how much you really belong. Shoot, maybe you can even become a brand ambassador and get free stickers, a trucker’s hat or a T-shirt.

I haven’t done the ultra thing yet (and I won’t rule it out), but I’ve felt the pull of collecting the merit badges that seem to come with identifying as a runner. And believe me, I think the running community is awesome. I’ve met some incredible people through running. And yeah, I’ve worked with a brand or two.

But after a time, chasing all these gold stars seems like just another thing to do. I shouldn’t feel compelled to run every time I’m on a trail. Hiking is sometimes more fun. I should feel OK if I jump on a bike or blow myself out in the weight room instead of tallying the expected weekly mileage count. If I want to hoist barbells instead of piling up more junk miles, that shouldn’t be a big deal. I shouldn’t feel guilty if I’m not “living the life” according to whomever.

And maybe that’s why those long run memories aren’t pulling me toward another race. You’ve got to want to do this stuff. Otherwise, it’s just work. You can do a million different things to stay in shape, after all.

There’s satisfaction in a race well-run. Or even challenging yourself on the trail when no one is around. But in the end, it needs to be profitable. Not just in terms or fitness or accomplishment, but for what it does for you outside the merit badges of running culture.

I’m gonna race a 5K this weekend. I’m also going to do a lot of other things many of my runner friends won’t do. And they’re going to do a lot of things I’m not going to do (or, frankly, can’t do because they’re awesome at this running thing). And that’s fine by me.

Maybe by this summer, I’ll feel the pull or the PR, create another training program, and have another go at a longer race. Shoot, maybe I’ll go all in on the ultra. But if I don’t, I’m not going to sweat it.

Bob Doucette

The fellowship of the run

Sitting in the lobby of my gym, I wondered who might show. I quit scrolling through Twitter long enough to check the weather. Twenty-six degrees with an 8 mph north wind. It was close to sunset, and truth be told, I wouldn’t be surprised if no one showed up for the night’s planned group run. Besides, it was Friday night. Don’t people have anything better to do on a Friday night?

But a few minutes later, Jen showed up. Tall, lean, and every bit that you’d expect from a marathoner. Minutes later, here came Donald. In his youth, he ran cross-country to stay in shape during soccer’s offseason. A decade later, old habits gave him a new incentive to get back on the road. It would be just the three of us, stumbling out into the cold, ready to tackle a planned five-mile out-and-back.

We walk for a block, get the blood working, and take off out of downtown, chatting it up as the first mile got underway. We’re a small group. But given all the reasons not to be there, I’d call us small-but-mighty.

***

Years ago, I didn’t like running. It was time-consuming, uncomfortable, and far less fun than a game of hoops. But that changed over time, largely when I discovered some of the benefits that running imparts.

For starters, it’s a great way to blow off steam. Run yourself ragged for 30 minutes, or an hour, or four hours, and you’ll likely come back having exorcised a few of the daily demons. In their place is normally an endorphin rush most people call a “runner’s high.” Most of us feel it when we’re done; a lucky few enjoy it as they go. I usually fall into the former camp, but it’s good enough to keep me coming back.

Running is also great for people who need some time alone. You know who you are. People are great, but there are moments when they need to be held at bay. Pound out a few miles and you get just that.

Being the type of person who is comfortable in solitude, I usually run alone. This is not sad or otherwise detrimental. It just is. Fact is, most people run solo.

But there are merits to having a running buddy. Or buddies. You can learn from other runners, and push each other. I find that I usually run faster when in a group and get lazy when I’m on my own.

A few years back, I joined a weekly trail running group. I knew precisely none of the two-dozen or so people who were there. But I ran with them, got to know a few of them, and picked up a lot of knowledge about trail running and our local trails. When we were done, we’d all head to a burrito place, snag some tacos and down a beer or two. Some of that group became friends, folks I can still hang out with even though I can’t go to those group runs anymore.

The fast runners were the ones everyone looked up to. Or those who had a few hundred-mile ultras under their belts. Often, these were the ones leading the groups, usually broken down into different paces to suit whoever showed up. Whoever they were, there was a sense of accomplishment that followed them. It was understood. They were “qualified” to lead a group on those gnarly, twisty trails, regardless of pace.

Years later, one of the trainers at my gym, an ex-college track guy with the resume of a serious distance runner, asked me if I would like to lead a weekly run group. “Sure,” I said. “I’d love to.”

But keep in mind, I’m about as pedestrian as they get when it comes to running. No podium finishes. No hundo belt buckles. Just a smattering of mid-pack finishes in races between 5K and marathon distance. If anyone ran with me, I wouldn’t be shocked if they thought, “Lame” and never came back.

But we’re more than a month into it, and folks still come. It’s funny to me that anyone actually shows up. That is, they show up to run with me. But I’m glad they do. Running is great solo. But it’s also great with good company.

***

A few weeks back, Donald and I were on the back side of a five-miler when we got to discussing a mutual love of hiking. He started talking about a trip years back when he was ascending Mount Elbert in Colorado, the highest peak in that state and the second-highest in the Lower 48. It’s a mountain I summited many years ago, back in 2005. We groaned about the numerous false summits we encountered, and he went on to describe how he and his hiking partners had to high-tail it down the mountain on the account of an approaching storm.

Yup, I can recall similar instances in the Rockies.

A week later, when Jen joined us, she started talking about a recent four-day excursion she and her boyfriend took to the Grand Canyon. I marveled a little that three random people seemed to have an affinity for outdoor adventure. But I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Lots of runners also hike, climb, backpack and otherwise find themselves drawn toward the suffering and joy of pushing themselves outdoors, be it on the run or with a 50-pound pack on their backs.

More important, though, is the manner in which I’ve gotten to know people’s stories. I knew Jen as a runner, and know her now as a backpacker, but she’s also a mother of a daughter getting ready to graduate college. Donald was an Eagle Scout back in his younger days.

And there are others. Paige, one of our younger runners, competed in college cross-country and is a die-hard Patriots fan (I try not to hold that against her). Steve, our elder statesman, isn’t just an accomplished trail runner. He’s a Pikes Peak Marathon finisher.

I never would have known anything about these people had I not run with them. I wouldn’t know them at all if I wasn’t a runner.

***

The last run I led just a few days ago, another new runner joined us. Her name is Kathy, and like Jen, she’s been at this running thing for a while and can hold her own. And she’s also the mother of a soon-to-be college grad.

I promised the group a scenic run, which is code for “I’m going to make you run to the top of the biggest hills in Tulsa because I find this weirdly fun.”

I try to plan routes that I think people will enjoy, ones with some scenery, some history, or maybe both. Other times, I’ll take them on a route I use for training, with the idea that if this sort of route helped me in one of the local races, it might help them, too.

That night’s “scenic route” took us north out of downtown, toward a college campus, and then up a sizable rise called Standpipe Hill. It’s one of the highest points in the city, and once you top out, it has a spectacular view of downtown. The sun was going down, setting the clouds overhead afire with yellows, oranges and purples, a colorful background against the shiny glow of the skyscrapers a mile to our south. The city was putting on a visual show.

“I like to stop here and catch my breath and take in the view,” I told the group. “It never gets old.”

Everyone seemed to agree. In Kathy’s case, she saw parts of the city she’d heard of, but had never seen with her own eyes. It’s an all-new experience, and in this case, one you must earn. I know I earn it every time I run this route (the hill is steep), and it never disappoints.

A few moments later, we headed down the hill, climbed another, then dropped back down into downtown’s meandering streets. One steep overpass, then another hill, and finally a quick dash back to the gym and we’re done. High-fives were exchanged before the group broke up and headed out into our own lives. But not before everyone made a little pact.

“See you next week?”

Absolutely.

Bob Doucette

Land donation to Turkey Mountain points toward emerging opportunities for Tulsa’s outdoor recreation economy

Turkey Mountain and the Arkansas River in Tulsa. Two natural resources that people are starting to value more.

Man, how things have changed over the course of less than four years.

The news out of Tulsa this week was overwhelmingly good when it comes to the status of Turkey Mountain. On Thursday, the city of Tulsa and the George Kaiser Family Foundation donated 400 acres at Turkey Mountain to the Tulsa River Parks Authority. The move triples the size of RPA’s holdings at Turkey Mountain, and together with a 50-year master lease set up late last year, the future of Turkey Mountain seems more secure than ever before.

That future appears in line with what Turkey Mountain’s users, stakeholders and managers have laid forth: that the park will remain an open green space left in a natural state. Turkey Mountain is loved by trail runners, mountain bikers, hikers and nature enthusiasts, and is known as one of the finest mountain biking trail systems in the country. It’s an asset that has grown in popularity, as can be seen in the increasing number of visitors.

But back in 2014, this seemed in doubt. Simon Properties sought to build an outlet mall on the western side of Turkey Mountain, a project that would have practically sat on top of the Westside YMCA kids camp, threatened trails nearby and caused untold traffic nightmares for years to come. Simon had allies in City Hall, including then-Mayor Dewey Bartlett.

Strong local opposition changed the trajectory of the debate, and years later, Turkey Mountain’s place as one of the city’s premier parks is set.

This brings up a bigger picture that looks even brighter, particularly when it comes to public health and economic diversification. Piece by piece, the Tulsa area’s outdoor recreation inventory is building out in a major way. So, let’s examine that, and see where it’s going.

The foundation of it is in Tulsa River Parks. Paved trail systems and open park land offer Tulsans ample opportunity to walk, run and bike, with larger fields available for team sports (rugby and soccer) and disc golf. On any given weekend, thousands of people are outside, getting exercise or relaxing by the river.

West Bank paved trail at Tulsa River Parks, near Turkey Mountain.

Turkey Mountain, with what it offers, is part of that River Parks system. Besides the daily flow of users, Turkey Mountain is also the scene of cycling races, trail running races, and even festivals. People developing a taste for trail running, hiking and biking introduce new economic opportunities for retailers who sell to people involved in these sports and activities.

On the east bank of the Arkansas River, a massive transformation is unfolding that will change the face of Tulsa’s parks system and the city itself. The $350 million Gathering Place promises to be one of the greatest urban parks in the country. It’s set to open this year, with more development continuing through 2019. There will be something for everything at the Gathering Place, and it will serve as an anchor for the park system for decades to come.

And thanks to the latest Vision Tulsa sales tax initiative, a series of dams on the Arkansas River will guarantee even water flow and good flatwater surfaces. This will open up water sports opportunities like never before. If you’re looking for what might be possible, take a look at what’s happened down the turnpike in Oklahoma City, where a prairie trickle running by downtown has been transformed into an excellent water sports destination. Flatwater kayaking, team rowing and, more recently, whitewater rafting and kayaking has been introduced in the middle of Oklahoma, spurring competitive collegiate rowing sports and attracting an Olympic training center. The transformation brought on by OKC’s Oklahoma River project can easily be duplicated in Tulsa.

Short walls that are good for bouldering, at Chandler Park. 

Elsewhere in the city, the trails and wilds of Tulsa County’s Chandler Park are a hidden gem. Plenty of trail runners have discovered what Chandler Park has to offer: a series of challenging and scenic trails much like Turkey Mountain. Close to the park’s center is a series of bluffs and cliffs that are excellent for rock climbing and bouldering.

Summing it up, within the next few years you will be able to enjoy running, hiking, road biking, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing/bouldering, and water sports, all within the city limits of Tulsa.

Growth of outdoor recreation isn’t confined to the city. To the north, people in the city of Claremore are reaping the benefits of the revival of a trail system by Claremore Lake. Work has been ongoing to update and expand that lake’s trail system, and Claremore Lake is quickly becoming a new hotspot for mountain bikers.

And east of Tulsa, folks in Tahlequah are upping their game as well. Tahlequah has long had ample trails to explore, and the Illinois River is well known for people who enjoy float trips, canoeing and kayaking.

A new organization, called Tahlequah Trails, is hoping to build on that, with its stated goal to “support a trail system similar to northwest Arkansas,” according to its Facebook site.

That’s a lofty goal, for sure. Arkansas is one of the top destinations in the country for mountain bikers in the know. But it’s a worthy one, considering how well Arkansas has tapped into its natural beauty to attract athletes and tourists. The state has been better than most when it comes to building its economy by offering people an active place to play.

A cyclist rides the trails at Turkey Mountain.

And that brings me to this: Northeast Oklahoma in general, and Tulsa specifically, has a huge opportunity before it. City leaders and businesses are hungry for growth, and they can find it in outdoor recreation. Nationally, the outdoor recreation economy is more than $887 billion a year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Yes, that’s billion with a “B.”

In Oklahoma, outdoor recreation accounts for $10.6 billion in consumer spending, $3.1 billion in wages and salaries, 97,000 jobs and a whopping $663 million in state and local taxes, according to OIA. Tapping into that economic energy has transformed other cities across the country. Communities like Chattanooga, Tenn., Boulder, Colo., Richmond, Va., and many more have diversified and strengthened their economies while upping their quality of life, thus making them more attractive to other businesses. In the case of Richmond, the presence of ample off-road cycling transformed the city’s economy and even its neighborhoods. Given the natural assets we have here, there is no reason that Tulsa can’t see similar results.

Circling back to the news of the week, we can see momentum building, piece by piece, to set the city up for success. Consolidating and preserving the land at Turkey Mountain has economic and ecological benefits that will pay forward for decades to come. Here’s hoping that we can keep this going. So much has already happened in the span of less than four years.

— Bob Doucette

Bigger floods, more fires, stronger storms, longer heat waves: As the climate changes, get used to more of this

Golfers get in a round while wildfires burn in the background. I can’t think of a better metaphor of how climate change is being addressed in Washington right now. (Kristi McCluer, photo)

If you were to summarize and visualize the effects of climate change in the United States, all you would need is a weather recap of 2016 and 2017.

From the National Climate Assessment, these are a couple of the summarized findings and predicted conditions we can expect as the planet warms:

Extreme weather: There have been changes in some types of extreme weather events over the last several decades. Heat waves have become more frequent and intense, especially in the West. Cold waves have become less frequent and intense across the nation. There have been regional trends in floods and droughts. Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves everywhere are projected to become more intense, and cold waves less intense everywhere.

Hurricanes: The intensity, frequency, and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest (Category 4 and 5) hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s. The relative contributions of human and natural causes to these increases are still uncertain. Hurricane-associated storm intensity and rainfall rates are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.

I’ve left out the 10 other categories, mostly for the sake of brevity. But to look back on some weather events over the past 12 months or so, it looks like a rogue’s gallery of future conditions climate scientists predict is headed our way.

In November of 2016, severe drought conditions and high winds turned the U.S. Southeast into a tinderbox. Two teens lit matches and threw them on the ground near Gatlinburg, Tenn., starting a firestorm that killed 14 people, torched 2,400 buildings in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, and burned 17,000 acres in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Future warming is said to threaten the woodlands of the southeastern U.S., turning it from a temperate forest region into a warmer, and far less forested, savannah environment.

During the winter of 2016-2017, the Sierra Nevada Range saw massive snowfall that averaged, in some places, between 500 and 700 inches. This, after years of drought so severe that the entire state of California was on a water rationing plan. Previous snowpack levels were as low as less than 25 percent of normal, and yet this past winter, it was an abrupt reversal. As late as June, eight feet of snow was still present in some areas. While generally welcomed, record precipitation also prompted flooding that caused more than $1 billion in damage and caused the Oroville dam’s spillways to fail.

Not long after this bounty of moisture, the West Coast went through an intense heat wave that prompted one of the worst fire seasons in memory. Wildfires along the West Coast and in the Rocky Mountain states burned at record levels. Northern California wildfires are said to be the deadliest and most damaging that the state has ever seen. Seattle went through a near-record span without rain. Portland, Ore., normally a temperate city, broke 100 degrees regularly. And we are told that the nation’s wildfire season continues to steadily grow in length as the years have gone by, particularly in the West.

The 2017 hurricane season saw more extremes. The trend of stronger hurricanes has been on the rise since the 1980s. If this season was any indication, things can get much worse. Hurricane Harvey parked itself over Houston and east Texas, using the abnormally high water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico to feed itself for days on end. In addition to storm surge and wind damage, Harvey unloaded a year’s worth of rain on the area in the span of a week. Harvey was followed by Hurricane Irma, which hit Category 5 status at one point, and slammed into Florida with damaging winds, storm surge and flooding. Then came Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, causing damage which could linger for a generation or longer. Hurricane Ophelia hit Ireland (Ireland!), the first such storm so strike the island in nearly 60 years. Ophelia was the 10th major hurricane this season, making this the most active hurricane season since 1893.

I could go on. The warming earth has led to the spread of the pine beetle, which has devastated forests in the American West, adding further fuel to already dangerous fire conditions. We could talk about ocean acidification, which stressing marine life and threatening fisheries. And then there is the real possibilities that some places in the world inhabited by hundreds of millions of people could become so hot as to be unlivable (heat deaths in India have been in the thousands as of late, and one city in Iran recorded a heat index of 165 degrees a little more than two years ago), and that warming conditions in Southwest Asia may have contributed to the explosion of violence and turmoil seen in Syria – a crisis which flooded the region with war, sent refugees to Europe by the millions, seismically altered politics on that continent almost overnight, and even had reverberations here in the U.S. Maybe that’s why the Pentagon recently cited climate change as a major threat to U.S. national security.

And just to be clear, we are causing this.

I spend most of my time on this site discussing the outdoors, or fitness, or plenty of other things far less serious than everything detailed above. But I believe that if you love the outdoors, conservationism must be a part of your life. Naturally, a lot of us want to protect the places we enjoy. Many others make their living helping us do just that. And more importantly, we all have a stake in seeing that the places we live, work and play don’t become washed away by floods or turned to ash by fires just because we didn’t pay attention to what the planet is telling us.

And then there’s this: There are people in power trying to downplay the risk, or stifle commentary on it altogether. Multiple federal agencies are being cowed into submission by people representing interests that do not want to see any action on how we deal with climate change. In some cases, they are literally voicing and printing the talking points of industries that fear they might lose revenue and shareholder value should common-sense conservation policy be allowed to take hold.

So pay attention. Get to know who your elected officials are. Write them often. At some point, enough people must speak up for the political class to listen.

Bob Doucette