Happy feet: Some of my favorite scenes from the trail

Sweet trails at Loveland Pass, Colo.

Sweet trails at Loveland Pass, Colo.

Spring is upon us, and that means a bunch of people are going to crawl out of their winter holes and hit the trails. Some of us like those winter trails, too, but for most of the public, spring and summer is where it’s at.

With that in mind, I think it’s time for some trail stoke. In this case, some of my favorite images of trails. So here goes…

It’s hard to beat a bluebird day above treeline…

Summit trail on Mount Lincoln, Colo.

Summit trail on Mount Lincoln, Colo.

A tough walk up can lead to pleasant valleys below…

The route down from Broken Hand Pass to Cottonwood Lake, Colo., Sangre de Cristo Range.

The route down from Broken Hand Pass to Cottonwood Lake, Colo., Sangre de Cristo Range.

A good snow can make the woods come alive in new ways…

Snowy scene from near the trailhead at Turkey Mountain, Tulsa, Okla.

Snowy scene from near the trailhead at Turkey Mountain, Tulsa, Okla.

And similarly, the ethereal feel of cloud cover will make some routes feel mysterious…

Summit ridge trail on Missouri Mountain, Colo.

Summit ridge trail on Missouri Mountain, Colo.

When your path points toward the dramatic, it become fuel to push on…

Happy backpackers on the trail up to Chicago Basin, Colo., Weminuche Wilderness.

Happy backpackers on the trail up to Chicago Basin, Colo., Weminuche Wilderness.

And a little bit of air can be pretty exciting…

Ledge-y section on the Southwest RIdge of Mount Sneffels, Colo.

Ledge-y section on the Southwest Ridge of Mount Sneffels, Colo.

Long shadows of daybreak signal the encouragement that comes with the dawn…

Denney Creek Trail up the slopes of Mount Yale, Colo.

Denney Creek Trail up the slopes of Mount Yale, Colo.

And then there are scenes ahead of you that blow your mind…

Going up toward the summit pitch on Uncompahgre Peak, Colo.

Going up toward the summit pitch on Uncompahgre Peak, Colo.

They make you feel more alive…

Approaching the saddle on Mount Shavano. Colo.

Approaching the saddle on Mount Shavano, Colo.

As it turns out, a great memory on the trail is all about timing…

Wintry sunset scene on the west-side trails at Turkey Mountain, Tulsa, Okla.

Wintry sunset scene on the west-side trails at Turkey Mountain, Tulsa, Okla.

These are just a sampling. I’ve got a lot of good hiking memories. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to hit the trail right now. Happy hiking, folks!

Bob Doucette

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Common sense can prevent a pedestrian ban on Oklahoma City trails

Runners and hikers can coexist with these guys. I promise.

Runners and hikers can coexist with these guys. I promise.

There’s some good news and some bad news coming out of Oklahoma City.

The good news: Much like many communities across the country (including my hometown of Tulsa), more people are spending time on trails to hike, run or ride bikes. This is a good trend for urban and suburban communities, which for decades have been zoned and sectioned to death, leaving residents stuck with seas of rooftops with the occasional park thrown in. Trail systems in our cities are getting more people back in touch with the natural world, as opposed to the more sanitized version of the outdoors that we normally see.

Now the bad news: Friction between different trail users has caused city officials in Oklahoma City to propose banning pedestrians from Bluff Creek Park, as popular place for local trail users. In doing so, they’re hoping to avoid accidents between people on foot and those on bikes.

According to this recent report, no one is happy with this. Runners and hikers feel like they’re being unfairly targeted, and cyclists feel like they’re being turned into a public safety scapegoat. All sides believe the proposal was rushed, without getting input on solutions from people who use the trails. The matter is being brought up at an Oklahoma City Parks Commission meeting on Wednesday.

When I look at this, I do it from the vantage point of someone who uses a busy urban trail system regularly. Here in Tulsa, we have a couple: Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area in south Tulsa, and the trails on the west side of Chandler Park, in west Tulsa. In the former, our users are runners, hikers, cyclists and equestrians. In the latter, a lot of hikers, runners and in one area, rock climbers.

I’m most often at Turkey Mountain, and it is by far the busier of the two trail systems. It’s also become more popular every year. And yet its users manage to get by just fine without one specific group being told to stay away. (One small counterpoint, however – Turkey Mountain is a much larger trail system than Bluff Creek Park.)

So, when I look at the proposal floating around Oklahoma City, it seems like the solution was long on overreach and short on common sense. When it comes to common sense, execution is in the hands of the trail users. So here are some suggestions:

First, people need to keep their ears and eyes open. Be listening and looking for the sounds of bikes or pedestrians and don’t get too lost in the moment in what you’re doing.

Second, it’s far easier for the person on foot to give way to a rider. Do that and avoid a lot of confusion, and take care to give way to the person going downhill.

Third, if you have dogs, keep them leashed. I know it’s more fun for the pups to be off-leash, and maybe they’re trained to obey voice commands very well. But you have more control with they’re leashed, especially when a cyclist is rounding a corner.

Fourth, if you’re on a bike, verbally announce yourself if you’re coming up behind people on foot and slow down.

Fifth, lose the earbuds. In tighter spaces with trees obstructing views, you need to be able to hear what’s going on around you. This applies whether you’re on foot or on the saddle. A compromise might be having an earbud in only one ear, keeping the other free to hear outside noises. But I’d say it’s better to go without.

It should be noted that the proposal to make the trail system for mountain bikers only came as a result of a user survey, one in which less than a third of respondents wanted to ban pedestrians, and less than 2 percent had reported an accident with another user. And yet, the pedestrian ban is what’s being floated as a result of the survey.

Oklahoma City parks planners would do well to avoid discouraging trail usage from its residents, which is exactly what this proposal would do. We need more people getting outside and moving, not less. It sounds like what is needed here is a strong effort from the city and trail user groups to educate people on how to be safe when they’re on the trails, and to learn a little trail etiquette. Banning entire groups of trail users is overkill.

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

Turkey Mountain update: Simon Group takes a standing eight-count, delays presenting updated plans

A more detailed plan of Simon Group's plan for an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. Note just one entry and exit on a two lane road (traffic nightmares), and at the bottom of the map, you'll see that the site butts right up to a ravine. No thanks.

A more detailed plan of Simon Group’s plan for an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. Note just one entry and exit on a two lane road (traffic nightmares), and at the bottom of the map, you’ll see that the site butts right up to a ravine. No thanks.

If you’ve ever followed the boxing, you know what it looks like when a confident fighter meets a buzz saw. Back in the day, that was Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas. Everyone assumed the champ would dispatch poor Buster in three rounds or less, but we all know that didn’t happen. Iron Mike knew what he had going for him. He just didn’t properly see what was coming at him on that night.

Surprise!

Surprise!

Last month, the Simon Group showed up en masse to a Tulsa Planning Commission meeting and told those who were there a couple of important things concerning the outlet mall they plan to build on the west side of Turkey Mountain. First, they said they’d built more than 80 retail developments around the world, and that we should trust them. And second, they told us to just look at what they’d already done here in Tulsa.

OK, I’ll bite. They told us to trust them. Trust, as I see it, is something that comes with concrete plans and verifiable facts. What we’ve received thus far is a plan that is a little vague on important details, most important of which is how this mall, which would overlook the Westside YMCA kids camp, would affect that camp and the rest of the woodlands in terms of drainage, litter and light pollution. Many of us have no doubt the impact would be negative, and we have yet to see anything concrete that would ease those concerns.

It also doesn’t seem like Simon has taken the traffic issues as seriously as the rest of us do, especially the people who live along 61st Street and Elwood Avenue, which is right next to where Simon’s mall would be built. Their plan calls for using a tax breaks to widen the 61st Street bridge over U.S. 75 and a little bit of the road from the bridge to just east of the development. But anyone in the know would tell you that traffic along all of 61st Street and Elwood Avenue, that hilly, curving two-lane ribbon of asphalt, would increase dramatically. The road is simply not built to handle traffic from such a large, high-traffic development like an outlet mall. Traffic going in and out of the mall parking lot would also be congested, as there is just one planned entry/exit.

So just from an eyeball test, the mall is going to create a traffic nightmare. Trust is, they say. Sure. Trust, just don’t verify.

On to the next point: to look at what Simon has already done here in the Tulsa Market.

I’m aware of two projects. One was the Eastland Mall in east Tulsa. When it opened in the late 1980s, it was a pretty great place, but it didn’t last long. All accounts showed that Eastland began failing not long after it opened.

It’s still open, but not as a shopping mall. Instead, it’s a repurposed property with offices (now under different ownership), a few restaurants and a tiny bit of retail. So as far as this part of Simon’s track record in Tulsa, I’d call Eastland Mall a swing and a miss.

But then there’s Woodland Hills Mall. Now this has, indeed, become a serious retail success story in Tulsa, anchoring a retail area that has become the most powerful commercial engine we have in the city.

But also, just look at it. The traffic there is as heavy as anywhere else in the city. The number of street lights between Memorial Drive and U.S. 169 on 71st Street rivals what you might see in the block-by-block traffic control downtown. It’s a sea of big-box stores, chain restaurants, strip malls and other buildings orbiting the mass that is Woodland Hills Mall. Just the thing you want to see plopped in the middle of the city’s top urban green space, right?

Oh, and let’s just take a look at the pictures of what the property around Woodland Hills Mall looks like…

woodland1

woodland2

woodland3

Imagine that loveliness hovering over the Westside Y. I guess we could teach kids the value of hard work by assigning them to daily litter patrol, right?

Needless to say, the skeptics go well beyond me and other trail users. Greater Tulsa YMCA officials have expressed their concerns on two different television news interviews, and members of the Tulsa City Council have expressed very public and blunt doubts about the outlet mall plan’s viability at the location Simon proposes. Many people are also not wild about subsidizing a multi-billion-dollar corporation’s plans for the mall with public funds via a tax-increment finance district.

(It might also be noted that there has been no public opposition to competing plans in east Tulsa and Catoosa.)

A wood-lined section of Turkey Mountain's Ho Chi trail during the summer. The scores of miles of trails here offer some of the most challenging trail running and cycling trails you can find.

We’ve got plenty of places to shop in Tulsa, but not very much of this.

The argument that preserving the land as it is – wild, forested hills – has become the consensus preference for the people who actually live here as opposed to the suits at Simon’s Indianapolis corporate headquarters. People like the idea of maintaining a spot where they can hike, ride a bike, run or take their horse as opposed to yet another shopping center. We’ve got a lot of those already.

So Simon asked for a time out. Company representatives were to appear at a Planning Commission next week, but asked for a one-month continuance. Translation: After getting battered by bad press, turning public opinion and open doubts from the people who have final say on the mall’s approval, Simon is taking a standing eight-count in their corner of the ring. I guess these things happen when your plan isn’t very good to begin with, and that’s not a surprise, given how poor the site is for a mall, and the other weaknesses I’ve already noted.

That doesn’t mean this issue is decided. Far from it. But it does mean there is a growing chorus of opposition to a mall at Turkey Mountain, and that people in power are listening. That’s a trend I’d like to see continue.

There are things you can do. Here are some ideas:

If you haven’t written city council members and the mayor, do it. Encourage dialogue. Write respectful, concise and well thought-out letters and emails, but plainly state your case. And don’t just write your councilor. Write all of them. Get their contact information here.

If you live in District 2, or anywhere else in Tulsa, go to the public meeting Councilor Cue is hosting. Be there, bring your neighbors, and let your voice be heard. Turkey Mountain is important to all Tulsans and beyond, but it specifically affects her and her constituents. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. March 17 (this Tuesday) at the Marriott Tulsa Southern Hills, 1902 E. 71st Street.

If you haven’t signed the online petition, do so. It’s more than 7,600 signatures now. Numbers matter. Be part of that growing list. Go to the petition here.

Volunteer to be a part of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition. Turkey Mountain and other vital outdoor green spaces in the area are the things this group is trying to protect and promote, and the group does good work. More great things are in the future, including continued advocacy for the greater Turkey Mountain area. Learn more about TUWC and how to join here.

Turkey Mountain is an asset as it is. Its existence has been noted as a serious draw for people inside and outside the city, and is a great tool to recruit residents and businesses who care about quality of life issues. Building an outlet mall there would only degrade it. So stand up and be heard. Folks are listening.

Bob Doucette

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Volunteers in droves: Turkey Mountain’s biggest cleanup day

We’ve seen better days at Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness. News about Simon Properties wanting to build an outlet mall on the wilderness area’s west side got a good number of people riled up, but that has not stopped some work from being done on that site. Even preliminary work, like taking core samples from the ground, has had an adverse effect on woodlands.

But on Saturday, Turkey Mountain had a good day. The Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, in partnership with the River Parks Authority, the Oklahoma Earthbike Fellowship, TATUR Racing and the International Mountain Biking Association, held a work day at the park. Usually, we get a couple of dozen, or maybe around 30 or 40 people show up, which is great. Over the summer, a work day with serious corporate sponsors brought out about 120 people for a National Trails Day effort.

But this work day saw around 150 people come out on a Saturday morning to do some work.

The group was sizable, and the weather was about as good as you can get in mid-January.

The cleanup crew! (Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition photo)

The cleanup crew! (Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition photo)

I was tasked with taking a crew out on the Powerline Trail. This route gets a lot of litter, and as you can see, we stuffed several bags with trash. Most people don’t litter, but some do, and over time it adds up.

My cleanup crew on the Powerline Trail. They did awesome.

My cleanup crew on the Powerline Trail. They did awesome.

Most of the trash included things like empty water bottles, beer cans and food wrappers. But we also hauled out a busted printer, tires, scrap metal and a car muffler. And that was just my group. There were several crews on all of the other trails on River Parks land, hauling out garbage. It made for quite a truckload of junk.

A truckload of trash. And this wasn't even when the truck was fully loaded.

A truckload of trash. And this wasn’t even when the truck was fully loaded.

While I’m not happy about the carelessness some people display with their refuse, I sure was glad to have so many people come out to clean it all up.

Other trail work was done: Pruning, trimming, and on one particularly eroded trail section, a major overhaul to shore it up and make it safer for cyclists, runners and hikers. That was a major effort with a lot of hard work.

A work detail putting the finishing touches on trail rebuilding. A section called "bomb cellar" had been badly -- and dangerously -- eroded. It's been shored up nicely and is much safer.

A work detail putting the finishing touches on trail rebuilding. A section called “bomb cellar” had been badly — and dangerously — eroded. It’s been shored up nicely and is much safer.

At the end of the day, Turkey Mountain became a better place because of the efforts from trail users of all stripes: Runners, hikers, cyclists and equestrians. We saw retirees, young people, athletes and families, with kids in tow. In my crew, I had two little guys eagerly attacking the trash and hauling it out.

For them, it meant not just giving back, but learning more about Turkey Mountain, why this place is important and what’s at stake concerning its future.

Something I’ve said before is definitely true here. People don’t care about something they don’t see. It explains why conservation efforts are so hard, especially when confronted by big-money players who promise the world in exchange for permanently altering the land they wish to exploit.

But when people see what is out there, whether it be Turkey Mountain, or the Grand Canyon, or some other wild place, they tend to stick up for conservation issues. It’s why we have a national parks system, why the Grand Canyon is not a massive reservoir, and why places like Yosemite, Yellowstone and many others have been allowed to remain as they have for eons. And it’s also the reason why past Tulsa leaders set aside Turkey Mountain to remain a wooded, wild area for city residents to enjoy rather than exploit.

So I’m encouraged by what I saw. Even if just 30 people showed up, I’d have been happy. But to have our biggest cleanup and work day ever, that tells me something. It tells me people care about Turkey Mountain and will work to preserve it.

Here’s to more of that in the coming days, months and years.

Bob Doucette

My week of running: Half marathon, trail time, and a Turkey Trot 5K

Well, it’s been a heck of a week for running. All that training came down to a couple of races and a lot of high-effort running. And it’s been good.

The week started with the Route 66 half marathon. I had wondered if I would have a pang of regret for not having signed up for the full marathon. I can honestly say that when the marathoners turned east from the rest of the pack after Mile 12, I had no feeling of regret at all. None. I knew I was about done, and they were still more than 13 miles from finishing.

That’s not to say I won’t do another full. The challenge is still interesting to me. One of these days I’m going to write something about why you should go for 26.2. But I was fine with the half (a great, fun distance that has a training schedule much more friendly to your life outside of running), and good with the 2:17 time I posted. Mission accomplished.

A view on the trails at Turkey Mountain in Tulsa.  Pretty great way to spend the morning.

A view on the trails at Turkey Mountain in Tulsa. Pretty great way to spend the morning.

Training didn’t take a break — I was in the weight room the day after the race, but held off running for a couple of days. It’s not like I was very fast last Sunday, but I ran hard and my body needed a break. So a short run on Wednesday, followed by a fun time on Thanksgiving.

I’ve made it sort of an unofficial tradition to get in a run on every major holiday. Usually I do this alone, but this week, I was joined by a couple of other fellas for some time on the trails out at Turkey Mountain.

Danny is a guy I knew only in the virtual world, but he’s a local guy who is getting into trail running. Danny is pretty fast, much more so than me. But he liked the idea of hitting the trails with someone (in this case, me) who knew Turkey Mountain pretty well. It was cool to meet him face to face (love how social media can make things like that happen) and run with the dude.

Did I mention Danny is pretty fast? Well, so is the friend he brought with him, Lael. This dude ran the full marathon last weekend, and did it in something like 3:36. I led (and labored) most of the way, and I appreciated their patience in running more at my pace. They could have easily gone much faster. But in return, I got to show them a few new places and give them ideas for new, longer routes on the mountain.

It was an amazing morning for a run. Maybe 28 degrees and sunny. We even saw a few other runners. Five miles later, I felt more than justified in committing an act of warlike gluttony that afternoon. I easily replaced the calories I burned.

And then, Black Friday. I have another tradition developing for that. Instead of battling crowds to buy cheap TVs or whatever, I run Tulsa’s Turkey Trot downtown. It’s always a hilly challenge — no big deal if you’re running casually, but I honestly try to run it hard. It was no different this time. I’m still not fast, recording a 26:35 — 19 seconds off my fairly pedestrian PR at last year’s Turkey Trot. Being in marathon shape last year meant a faster finish. But boy, 5Ks are hard for me. Pacing and effort is always a challenge. If I were a little lighter and my cardio a bit stronger, I could get to 24 minutes. But that’s going to take some work. I’ll keep looking to my nephew Hunter and niece Hillary for inspiration on that front — they’re collegiate runners who are well below 20 minutes at that distance. Not sure that will ever be me, but it’s something to shoot for.

Post-race goodies at the Turkey Trot. Cookies and beer is a weird combo, but I consumed it all anyway.

Post-race goodies at the Turkey Trot. Cookies and beer is a weird combo, but I consumed it all anyway.

In any case, some 1,100 people ran it. One couple used it as a stage to get married after they crossed the finish line. Families ran it together. Many novice runners used this as their big running challenge of the year. For them, this was their marathon, and it’s pretty cool to see how they relish in that finish. As for me, a medal, a cookie, a water and a beer. I’ll take it.

And so ends fall race season. A week of running hard, and trying to run fast. Now it’s time to make the transition into spring races, and then hitting the peaks. This is a continuous cycle I truly love to put on repeat.

Bob Doucette

Paving paradise: The (possible) story of how an outlet mall will eat Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain

A look across the river toward Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, Tulsa's lone wild green space. Could it be endangered by developers?

A look across the river toward Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, Tulsa’s lone wild green space. Could it be endangered by developers?

Some big news hit my hometown this week.

A couple of days ago, a real estate development company announced big plans to open a high-end outlet mall on the Tulsa’s southwest side. Potential retailers named in the announcement include outfits such as Coach, Nieman Marcus, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ann Taylor and more.

Promises of new jobs and more revenue for the city were touted as potential benefits to the project. And it would dovetail quite nicely with the existing Tulsa Hills shopping center and a neighboring retail development to the south, The Walk at Tulsa Hills. It would seem that the southwest corner of the city was getting ready to explode into shops, restaurants and parking lots filled with happy customers all too willing to plunk down their hard-earned shekels on whatever goods they fancied that day.

But that corner of the city is also home to something that is the opposite of this proposed temple of free enterprise and commercialism. It’s home to the city’s only wild green space.

It’s home to Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness.

I’ve written about this place a lot. It’s where I go trail running, and when I feel a little more easygoing, a place I like to hike. I train here. I compete here. I have met some truly awesome people in this place, folks who I now call friends. It’s a slice of hilly, wooded wild land filled with twisty, rugged and wonderful singletrack trails that challenge trail runners and mountain bikers like no other place in the state. It’s the place where a mountain hound like me can escape, a small plot where I can get my adventure fix.

I’m not alone in that. Usage of the park, which is owned by the Tulsa River Parks Authority, has increased steadily over the years. People hike with their families here. Folks ride horses here. I can’t tell you how many miles I’ve logged since discovering this gem three years ago when I became a Tulsa resident. Green spaces like this are rare in this part of the country, and the citywide love for Turkey Mountain has grown mightily in that span of time.

And now developers want to plop a mall right next to it. Some would argue right on top of it.

I’ve been watching social media posts about the planned outlet mall, and where it would be located. It’s definitely somewhat complicated. So I’ll try to explain it as concisely as I can.

Turkey Mountain “proper” includes a chunk of land on a couple of ridges on the west bank of the Arkansas River. It’s bordered to the south by a major thoroughfare, to the north by city and industrial property, and to the west by privately owned tracts. Some might include those undeveloped western tracts as part of “greater Turkey Mountain,” as a web of trails runs through all of it, with landowners seemingly OK with allowing trail folks to explore unhindered.

On that west side is where the concern lies. The outlet mall would be built on a corner lot of private property. But like much of the west side of “greater Turkey Mountain,” the tract to be developed is intersected with trails. Here are a couple of images (courtesy of Ken “TZ” Childress) showing a map of Turkey Mountain and the outlet mall tract superimposed.

The proposed outlet mall tract, in red.

The proposed outlet mall tract, in red.

The outlet mall tract superimposed on a map of Turkey Mountain's trails. A large section of those trails (admittedly on private property) will be gone if the mall is built.

The outlet mall tract superimposed on a map of Turkey Mountain’s trails. A large section of those trails (admittedly on private property) will be gone if the mall is built.

One of the tragedies: Losing trails there. If the mall goes in, the vista pictured below goes away, to be replaced by rows of stores, Dumpsters, and parking lots filled with oversized SUVs. It will be gone for good.

An endangered view.

An endangered view.

The deal is about done, though the timing is interesting. Developers of this proposal are admittedly competing for business from another developer looking to build its own outlet mall on the city’s east side. It sure looks like an unsubtle way of courting retailers to me, looking to stick it to a rival. Anyway…

I see a couple of problems for people like me, who would rather see the whole swathe of land stay wooded and wild. It’s private property. The owners can sell it to whoever they want, and if that buyer wants to build a mall on it, they can, provided the city gives its OK. I find it hard to believe that city leaders would turn down a money machine, at least not over the objections of non-moneyed people like me. I fully realize that when it comes to who gets heard, big money wins every time.

But we’ve been here before. A couple of years ago, another developer pitched a plan to build a theme park on the banks of the Arkansas River. Jobs, tourism and money, he promised. Besides, he said God told him to do it. All it would cost was wiping out some of the southern trails on Turkey Mountain.

A bunch of us objected. Loudly. And the Tulsa City Council stiff-armed the proposal as roughly as Adrian Peterson fends off opposing tacklers.

AD! Help us stiff-arm wanton commercial development! (twincities.com photo)

AD! Help us stiff-arm wanton commercial development! (twincities.com photo)

We breathed a sigh of relief.

But can we hope for a similar outcome here? I’m not so sure. An outlet mall is downright reasonable compared to the far-fetched, divinely inspired theme park scheme we brushed off in 2012. But if we speak up, there are possibilities for positive outcomes:

  1. We can convince the current property owner to scrap the deal and sell the land to River Parks, or to donate it for a sizable tax break.
  2. We can convince the developer that the fuss is not worth the fight, which could buy a little time to come up with a more long-term solution to preserving the green space.
  3. We can force city officials to win concessions from the developer to limit encroachment and impact on the wilderness area.

The cost of doing nothing? It’s hard to say. But it is within our nature as a society to erode our treasured wild places. It’s happening all over the country, even in places as sacrosanct as the Grand Canyon.

Some people won’t understand the sharp aversion to the outlet mall that me and thousands of others have. They like the idea of more shopping options and big-name stores.

But here’s the thing: We have malls. Lots of malls. A huge development in southwest Tulsa already exists, and another one is on the way. High-end retail already flourishes in places like Utica Square, and the whole 71st Street corridor surrounding Woodland Hills Mall (interestingly, owned by the same people proposing the outlet mall) has engulfed a huge chunk of south Tulsa with miles and miles of big-box stores, chain restaurants, department stores and other shops. We have places to shop already. And yeah, there is room for more.

But Tulsa has one – just one – wild green space. Only one sliver of undeveloped forest where parents can take their kids to explore nature. One place where you can be in 15 minutes and lose yourself in wilderness. One place where there is no pavement, no street signs, no honking horns, car exhaust or neon lights. It’s unique to the city.

And just to be clear, this is not just some silly trail runner being overly sentimental. Turkey Mountain is an asset, one that promotes physical and mental well-being, as well as explorative curiosity. And we need to protect it. We need to pass it on for future Tulsans. We can guard that asset or we can sell it out. And for what? Most likely, a brown-and-gray collection of boxy buildings with stores that will likely fade out for something else many times over.

Sometimes the best investment is plain old conservation.

This is that time.

Bob Doucette