Local conservation at work: Trail work day at Turkey Mountain

Volunteers sign up at last month’s Turkey Mountain work day. (photo by Laurie Biby/TUWC)

It’s been awhile since the controversy at Turkey Mountain unfolded. You might remember when someone wanted to put an outlet mall there. We’re past that now, and those of us who like to hike, bike and run the trails there are grateful.

But at the time, it was on people’s brains. When we did work days, scores of volunteers showed up to pick up trash, trim back undergrowth and shore up portions of the trails that had become worn down by weather and use.

Now, it’s different. The crowds aren’t as big. But dedicated people are still showing up to give Turkey Mountain a bit of TLC.

When the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition was formed, one of the first things we did was reach out to potentially like-minded organizations locally and in the state. One of those groups was the Oklahoma Earthbike Fellowship.

OEF, affiliated with the International Mountain Bicycling Association, is active in Oklahoma MTB circles. OEF is a major presence at any race in the state, and has been a force in developing and improving mountain biking routes in Oklahoma. What OEF shares with TUWC is a strong affinity for conservation.

So it was no surprise that when this work day approached, OEF was there, with a pickup and trailer full of tools to get to work.

Volunteers look over a repaired section of trail. (photo by Laurie Biby/TUWC)

We embarked on a couple of projects. One was to clear out deadfall and other debris on portions of the trails near the trailhead and beyond. Tulsa’s River Parks Authority led those efforts. The second was to repair a section of trail on a popular route overlooking the the Arkansas River called Ho Chi. Ho Chi is one of those trails that receives more use than just about anywhere else on Turkey Mountain, carved into the side of a ridge that falls away steeply downhill toward the river. As you can imagine, erosion is problematic here.

Repairing the section included finding large rocks and backfill dirt to shore up a section that was washing away. Many hands made for light work, and within a couple of hours, it was done.

Removing debris and deadfall near the trailhead. (photo by Laurie Biby/TUWC)

It should be noted that part of the OEF crew came up from Oklahoma City. OEF members have also been involved with trail development projects near Claremore Lake, a new-ish trail system in a distant suburb north of Tulsa.

It was a cool, breezy day, but that didn’t keep the crew from hanging out afterward, cracking open a few beers and sharing stories of races past.

I get a couple of takeaways from this.

First, it’s good to see the MTB community working with hikers and runners on projects like these. In some areas, cyclists and runners/bikers clash. But there was no evidence of that here. Just solid cooperation. We all have a shared interest in protecting wild green space and developing/preserving trail systems that not only help us enjoy the sports we love, but allow others to get outside, get active, become healthier and learn to appreciate how special natural spaces are. The OEF/TUWC partnership has been a good one, and will be for a long time to come.

Second, it’s encouraging to see the ownership people have taken in Turkey Mountain and places like it. If you follow the news much, you’ll notice that many federal and state public lands are at risk. States are running out of money to manage their own parks, and federally owned public lands are under constant pressure from large lobbying interests to be developed for extraction, harvesting and other forms of development. It can be discouraging for conservationists, but there is hope at the local level. Local conservationists worked hard to protect Turkey Mountain from commercial interests, and years later, the lands at Turkey Mountain are more secure than they’ve ever been. Outsider groups didn’t do this. No white knights rode in to save the day. Ordinary people from the Tulsa area banded together, collaborated with Turkey Mountain’s stakeholders convinced local leadership to preserve one of the few urban wild spaces left in the state.

Every time we do a work day, the commitment to this is demonstrated. And each time it’s demonstrated, the merits of conservation are illustrated. Here’s hoping for more of this, and for grassroots conservation to permeate the national discussion on public lands, public health and the value of getting people outdoors.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: Tulsa City Council leaning against the proposed Tulsa Harbour project

Early signs show that opposition to a proposed amusement park at Turkey Mountain is working. (Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area photo)

An update on the situation regarding Turkey Mountain and the proposed Tulsa Harbour amusement park:

As many of you know, there was a proposal being floated by a Tulsa developer to build an amusement park and a race car museum at the south end of Turkey Mountain. The proposal would wipe out at least one of the three main hiking/biking trails, cut into portions of the lower trails and likely break up the bike trail that connects Turkey Mountain to the rest of the River Parks bike trail system.

As you might expect, many people in the outdoor, running and biking communities were not happy about this. They showed up in significant numbers at a recent town hall meeting to express their opposition. An online petition has been circulated to stop the plan.

Officials at the meeting, including the River Parks board and the city councilor who represents that area of the city, have come out against Tulsa Harbour as it has been proposed.

I went a step further and sent an email to my city councilor, Blake Ewing. I told him my concerns, and he promptly sent me a response. Here’s what he said:

“I agree with you completely. My impression is that all of the elected people at City Hall do as well. I can’t imagine that there’s any chance of this thing happening. Thanks for the e-mail and for caring about our great city. You can count on me to work to keep it that way.”

It was good to hear this, and I think supporters of preserving Turkey Mountain as an urban wilderness can be heartened by what Mr. Ewing has said here.

It should be noted that the developer seems very motivated to build the amusement park, and that politics being what they are, things can always change. Proposals can be offered, compromises made, and deals pushed through. So if you’re not keen on someone plopping an amusement park on Turkey Mountain, keep watch on this issue.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Wilderness and mountain biking: A strange divide in the outdoor community

It would be sweet to ride past this on your bike, but you can't. Lost Lake is in a wilderness area.

I was reading an article online recently (which I later shared over social media) that extolled what appeared to be a bi-partisan effort on Capitol Hill to create new wilderness areas across the western United States. The story went on to talk about how the designers of a bill had found interesting ways to sell the plan to Republican lawmakers, whose support would be needed for passage. The bill looks promising.

What was interesting, however, wasn’t just the content in the story itself, but the comments below. As it turns out, some people who love the outdoors are not too fond of designating new areas as wilderness.

The 1964 Wilderness Act prohibits any form of mechanical transportation in wilderness areas. That means no cars, no trucks, no ATVs, no motorcycles — and no bicycles.

That’s right. Mountain bikers cannot take their beloved steeds into the singletrack paradises that cruelly beckon from within designated wilderness areas.

As you might guess, there is a lot of controversy about this in the outdoor community. There is a case to be made that the environmental impact of bicycles might be such that they tear up wild lands more than foot traffic, but biking enthusiasts dispute this. They also say that horses and mules are allowed in wilderness areas, concluding that a bike is not going to create a bigger footprint than the hooves of a 1,200-pound pack animal.

I find myself very divided on this subject. Mountain bikers are often vocal advocates for conservation. For those of us who love public lands and preserving our natural heritage, mountain bikers are kindred spirits. For the community to be divided on this seems strange.

On the other hand, there is something different about being in a wilderness area where the only way in and out is by way of your own two feet.

My thinking comes from experience. A few years ago, on a backpacking trip in New Mexico, I saw these two worlds collide. The early part of the hike up Wheeler Peak’s Middle Fork Trail saw us going up a broad, well-maintained trail for about three miles. As my group slogged upward, we were surprised to hear, from behind us, the mechanical strains of a couple of middle-aged mountain bikers cranking their way up higher.

I was impressed. We were hiking at somewhere around 10,000 to 10,500 feet by this time, and for biking, the trail going up was pretty steep. These guys were getting after it, shifted down to the granny gears, steadily ascending. The tourists who hiked up to the waterfalls or the first lake on the trail weren’t around these parts. We were in the realm of the fit by this point, and these guys were a couple of notches above that. We were two different types of outdoor enthusiasts enjoying the beauty and challenges of the Carson National Forest.

Awhile later, the bikers came back down and we kept going up. The trail narrowed considerably as we came up to a sign telling us that we were entering the Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area and that no mechanical transportation was allowed.

I have to admit, the area we entered seemed just a little bit more wild and more pristine, than what we had lower on the trail. There were fewer people and more animals — particularly bighorn sheep. That may have had nothing to do with the lack bikers, I don’t know. But there was a pleasantness to the wilderness area that was a level above the rest of the forest, mostly because of the absence of other people.

Would I have minded had there been bikers that high? Probably not. But I can see where some people would.

I’m curious what other people think. Should mountain bikes be allowed in wilderness areas? Should they be kept out? Does the Wilderness Act need to be amended?

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Let’s get outside together

The outside world is amazing. Let's explore it.

If you’re reading this for the first time, you’re catching this new site at its birth. Welcome to Pro Active Outside!

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a space like this. For three years, I managed a blog called Out There that focused on outdoor recreation. A change of scenery ended that stint, which gave me time to think about what I would do if given the freedom to do what I saw fit with an outdoors and fitness blog. It’s taken me a year to really put that together!

So what is Pro Active Outside? Well, here’s what it’s going to be:

1. It’s about the outdoors. Being outside and spending time outdoors is something I’m passionate about. One of the things I tell people is that “life is too short to be an indoor cat.” There is simply too much to do and see in a world that was made to leave us in wonder. Forests, mountains, deserts, beaches, prairies, and more — they all inspire me. You see, hear and smell things — feel things — in the outdoors that you simply can’t get in a man-made environment. Whether it’s on the trail, in the wilderness or on the slopes, I want to feel it.

2. It’s about being active. There’s too much sitting around going on these days. Exercise and fitness is a lifelong part of who I am, with the hope that if/when I get old, I am still able to be an active and able-bodied human being. A fit person’s world is much larger than that of a person who is out of shape. Too many people suffer in their middle and later years because they didn’t take care of their bodies. Step away from the video game console. There’s too much life to live away from the couch.

3. It’s about outdoor culture. News, trends, gear, books, films, people, culture — the things that interest outside-oriented people interest me.

So in the time where you’re not outside getting your run on, hiking the trail or hitting a line on some gnarly multi-pitch, stop in, have a read and interact.

Talk to you soon.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088