The trails were busy on Christmas, and that’s a good thing

I wasn’t alone on the trails on Christmas Day. This cyclist, a hiker in the background, and scores of others were there, too.

This has been a strange holiday season for me, mostly because I worked through both Christmas and New Year’s. It’s hard to get the holiday spirit when it’s just another workday.

But I did have time on Christmas Day to get on the trails. The weather was sunny and mild, and I had time to kill before my shift started. I figured most people would be at home with relatives, soaking in the holiday largesse, and maybe watching “Elf” or something.

I’d have the trails to myself!

Uh, wrong. I showed up to a mostly full overflow parking lot. People on mountain bikes, couples walking dogs, parents herding children… you get the idea. I’d be sharing the trails that day in a big way.

I dig the solitude of trail running. It’s a stark contrast to my city routes, where I’m dodging people, looking out for cars and otherwise surrounded by all the sights and sounds of a busy urban center. Don’t get me wrong, I like my city runs. But trail runs have their place, too. So, I might have been somewhat put off that my trail miles would have to be shared.

But as I thought about it, I changed my mind. As it turns out, the trail system I visited was working exactly as planned. And that’s a good thing.

When I moved to Tulsa in 2011, I’d heard a little about Turkey Mountain, but didn’t know much about it. I spent the next couple of years exploring its trails, and in terms of health, fitness, friendships and quality of life, I can say that the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness changed my life for the better. I’ve been advocating on its behalf for more than five years now.

Why it’s so important to my city has a lot to do with where Tulsa is, the health problems the community has, and the opportunity these trails provide. It’s a sorely needed venue for folks to get active. Oklahoma is smack in the middle of America’s Stroke Alley, so you understand the importance of things that help combat the increasingly sedentary nature of the society we live in.

When you think about it, the folks that set aside this land as a wild space decades ago were visionary. They saw the possibilities of what such a landscape could provide the city, other than being a tract for commercial or residential development. There is plenty of that to go around, but not much in the way of a true natural woodlands that people in the city could enjoy.

What’s encouraging is that many communities across the country are seeing the wisdom in setting aside land for human-powered recreation. I’ve seen it in the Denver metro area, and in a big state park south of Nashville. And so many more places. We need it, and folks are recognizing that fact – and acting on it.

So, what the heck. I didn’t get that solitary trail experience, but I got my run, nonetheless. And a bunch of people were out there with me, enjoying the woods, and getting some fresh air outside. I’ll call it a win.

Bob Doucette

Waterlogged: When it’s time to give the trails a break

My favorite place to run, but maybe now is not the best time to be there.

My favorite place to run, but maybe now is not the best time to be there.

This is the time of year when I would like to transition my long runs to the trails. I’ve got two trail races I’m eyeing over the next couple of months, and it makes sense to put those big miles on the dirt tracks of the woods.

But there is a problem. As it turns out, 2015 was the wettest year in Oklahoma history, capped off by an extraordinarily heavy weekend of rain over the Christmas holiday. Adding to that was some rain and snow over the past couple of days.

My local trail running haunt, the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area, is saturated. The last time I ran there, only the highest trail atop a ridge crest was halfway dry. Everything else was anything from muddy to flooded.

Mud and standing water is a de facto badge of pride for trail runners. Trail running is tougher than road running, mostly because the paths trail runners take don’t avoid elevation gains, traverse sketchy terrain and force runners to tackle the elements on their terms. Part of that includes mud.

I’m OK with that. Especially when it comes to races, rotten route conditions add a little spice to the event.

But there comes a time when you have to think bigger. The places where I run are pretty busy, and not just with runners. Cyclists, hikers and other trail users frequent my local trails by the hundreds every day, at a minimum. All that use has an impact on trails under the best of conditions. Add enough rain to the mix and trail erosion and degradation is greatly accelerated.

So when Saturday’s programmed long run came up, I stayed off the dirt and hit the pavement.

I know one person won’t cause much damage. Neither will 10. But hundreds will when the trails are in such poor condition, as they are now. And with so much rain behind us, it may be a bit before they dry out to the point where erosion and other damage is slowed.

As a trail runner, I care about the places I run. I care enough to get active in protecting the places those trails cross. I want to make sure the trail system is cleaned of trash, protected from urbanization and maintained in a sustainable way. I’ve even learned a little bit about trail restoration along the way.

But I also know that part of protecting those trails can be more passive. In their current state, my presence will likely add to deeper ruts and other associated harm that comes from my weight digging into the mud via my feet.

It’s also key to understand how many runners, hikers and even some cyclists react when confronted with a big pool of water in middle of the trail. Most try to sidestep it, to avoid getting their feet wet and to preserve those pristine kicks from the dingy stains of muddy water. Never mind that the edges of the trail are also likely to be very muddy, and that going around mud puddles causes even more damage, which is why we are told to run through the middle of the mess in the first place. But human nature is what it is.

So while I take a little pride in coming home from a trail run with mud splattered all over me, I also understand that maybe now it’s a little too muddy, a little too wet, and a bit too fragile for me. Not everyone will share this conviction, and I understand that. But it is something we should consider.

Maybe next weekend it will be different. But for now, I’ll grudgingly pound pavement and give my trails a break.

Bob Doucette

Finding the value in green spaces

In the short history of this little blog, you may have noticed that sometimes I’ll write spur-of-the-moment pieces about different things I see or otherwise experience on my runs. I choose to run outside (treadmills and tracks generally don’t do much for me) because seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling the outdoors is what makes running interesting to me. Well, that and the fitness benefits.

But something I have to say is how underappreciated our public spaces are.

I don’t want to go into a public policy debate, or revisit the whole Turkey Mountain issue. This is more of an appreciation.

The other day I went out to Tulsa’s River Parks. This is a good place for long weekend runs or otherwise a pleasant flat track to get some miles in. It was about 65 degrees with a slight south breeze and overcast.

I didn’t go out with an agenda. I’d get a few miles, maybe more. I’ve found running like this doesn’t do much for achieving training goals, but it frees me to absorb what going on around me.

River Parks follow the banks of the Arkansas River, leading from downtown Tulsa to the city’s far south side.

So it’s basically one long, very skinny green space with one wide spot that is home to a rugby field and various stations on a really lengthy Frisbee golf course. A divided, paved trail gives ample room for runners and walkers on one side and bikers on the other.

One would think the cloud cover would shoo some people away, but that wasn’t the case. People were out there in droves. People on bikes and skateboards. Folks running solo and on groups. People walking their dogs or taking their kids out for s stroll.

Visitors can cross to the west bank on a busy bridge on the north and a pedestrian bridge to the south. Sometimes you’ll see anglers trying to see what they can catch out of Zink Lake, which is really just a wider spot in the river created by a dam. Rowers also like to come to Zink Lake.

There are benches and water fountains about every mile or so, and a pretty big plaza at 41st Street where there are restrooms, a small water park and a play area for kids.

The city has done something interesting, in allowing a restaurant to exist within the park area. It’s been carefully integrated into the park so that people can freely use it without interfering with the business and vice versa. The business also has a seasonal outdoor bar area.

After my run, I went to the lawn just north of that bar to stretch. A couple dozen people were outside enjoying a drink and just hanging out. They had Bob Marley playing over the sound system about the time when I spotted a beefy dude, sans shirt and with long dreadlocks, skateboarding by.

There were kids everywhere, usually with parents in tow. Sometimes I’d spy a group of skateboarding or biking teens riding by.

What struck me is that with the exception of the people spending money at the bar or the restaurant, everyone else here was having a good time, and doing so for free. Yep, aside from the gas burned getting here, folks were able to come to the park, spend a few hours having some fun outside, and maybe even get some exercise without spending a dime.

A family matinee will run you some pretty good coin, particularly if you hit the snack bar. Same is true of a baseball or basketball game. And theme parks go even higher.

I think that’s what I love about public spaces. Obviously, I like people watching. But the real value here is that you have a community investing in something without the expectation of a financial return, but deeming it worthwhile because the real “return on investment” is public well-being.

My hope is more people see how worthwhile green spaces are. I see them as excellent places to train, but also as mini-escapes. Many others find other, equally worthy uses for them.

So go ahead. Step out of the car and take off on foot. There’s no admission, just a willingness to get out and move.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088