How outdoor recreation gives reasons for hope in Red State America

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

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

If you want to know how important something is to people, just check out how much time, energy and money they spend on it. The upper end of that time/effort/money spectrum is of high importance. If something is out-of-sight and out-of-mind, you can bet on a bad case of no-one-cares.

This is important to consider when it comes to the outdoors, and how people relate to it. A population that spends a good amount of time outside is going to be a healthier one, and more in tune with their world. Conversely, people who languish too long inside don’t know their world, and often sink into illnesses ranging from heart disease to cancer to depression.

And an entire community caught on the wrong end of this scale is going to see those problems magnified.

I use the term “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” often when it comes to issues of conservation, and I don’t think it’s any accident that places where conservationism is an afterthought are some of the country’s unhealthiest. I see that here in my home state. Oklahoma is smack in the middle of stroke alley, with some of the highest rates of obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes in the U.S. Stoking the indoor life are our brutally hot summers. Networks of highways, huge subdivisions and a spiderweb of streets are designed to take us from one place to the next, planted in an office chair, the driver’s seat or on the couch, marinating in the same climate-controlled temperatures. Oklahoma’s metropolitan areas are some of the least walkable and most cyclist-unfriendly you’ll find.

A few green spaces are set aside, mostly for ball fields and playgrounds, but most of what used to be grasslands and forests gets cleared for housing developments and parking lots. Losing those wild lands means fewer trees and grasses to absorb potential floods, clean up polluted air and keep temperatures down. And so you get more heat, crappier air and more excuses to stay firmly rooted inside, away from the distressed rivers and creeks and dwindling woodlands that are seen as obstacles to progress and impediments to commerce. By design, we’re isolated from the outdoors, and by default, the environment. All the while, a community’s health keeps deteriorating.

This is a pretty grim picture, and it’s not unique to my home state. This is the case just about everywhere else, too. But even here, in Urban Sprawl America, there are signs of hope. And maybe of changing minds.

I’ve got some friends who, a few years ago, put together this audacious idea to have a weekend campout at the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness in Tulsa. Turkey Mountain is an island of intact woodlands surrounded by a sea of suburban sprawl in south Tulsa. It’s a favorite destination for mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers and nature enthusiasts, and a real gem for the city. You’re not allowed to camp there, though.

But in getting a special permit from the city to hold this campout, organizers figured they could lure a decent crowd of people to show up, pitch a tent, grill up some food and enjoy live music. And maybe hike or bike a few miles on the trails.

The success of the event – it’s grown every year so far – served as a reminder to me. I think when people make a conscious effort to make the outdoors visible and appealing, people will value it more. And in so doing, help their communities and even their own health.

TAKING THE INITIATIVE

Like I mentioned earlier, a few of my friends – Tyler Hanes, Ryan Howell and Matt Carver – came up with this campout idea. It eventually morphed into an annual fall event called BaseCamp, initially attracting a few hundred participants, but now growing into nearly 1,200.

Folks run, bike and hike during the day, or just hang out and listen to music at the tent sites, eat some grub and crack open a few cold ones. Families make a weekend of it. It’s a good time, capped off at night by a “glow hike” where campers head into the woods, glow sticks in hand, and form a long neon conga line that snakes through Turkey Mountain’s winding, rugged trails.

A group yoga session at this year's BaseCamp festival at Turkey Mountain. Organizers said up to 1,200 people attended this year's campout event. (BaseCamp Facebook page photo)

A group yoga session at this year’s BaseCamp festival at Turkey Mountain. Organizers said up to 1,200 people attended this year’s campout event. (BaseCamp Facebook page photo)

A reporter and a photographer from the local newspaper went there to check it out last weekend. I was taken aback by what one guy had to say.

“Anything that helps improve the general awareness of the environment is going to be a good thing for Oklahoma,” Isaac Rutel told the Tulsa World. Rutel and his family came up from the Oklahoma City suburb of Choctaw to enjoy the weekend at Turkey Mountain, about 90 minutes or so from their home.

Isaac gets it. By being out there, he can appreciate Turkey Mountain’s value, despite it being devoid of houses that generate property taxes and home sales, or strip malls that crank out service jobs and sales tax earnings.

My friend Ryan, an avid mountain biker, summed it up like this:

“It’s a great way to be introduced to the mountain — coming out and sleeping under the stars, hearing some bands, going for a hike in the afternoon,” he told the Tulsa World. “We want to keep Turkey (Mountain) preserved the way it is, and the more people we can get passionate about this place and the more people we can get to say, ‘I know Turkey and I love it,’ then the more, hopefully, we can help… get funding and keep this place alive.”

Keep in mind that none of these guys are the well-heeled, politically connected or otherwise high profile personalities you’d expect to launch something like this. They’re just a few guys who had an idea, tried it out, and made it work. They provided a good time, and the event has grown despite being planned on the second Saturday of the college football season, where most Okies are on the sofa channel-surfing through the games. Beyond a bit of fun, they’re also opening eyes. Ordinary guys, taking the initiative, and showing people the value of getting outside, getting moving, and preserving what little bit of real nature we have left in the city.

BEING HEARD

Turkey Mountain’s popularity has surged in recent years, going from a place infrequently visited to one of Tulsa’s most popular draws. Hundreds and even thousands go there every week, and it’s host to a number of trail running and mountain bike races.

But over the past year or so, it was also a source of controversy.

Last year, shopping mall developer Simon Property Group announced plans to build an outlet mall on what, to them, appeared to be a promising piece of real estate near U.S. 75.

But it also happened to be on Turkey Mountain’s western edge, and just south of a YMCA kids’ camp. The plan would have wiped out a chunk of trails and several acres of woodlands, to be replaced by low-slung buildings and concrete. The “in nature” experience at the kids camp would have been blunted severely with a mall looming overhead at the top of a hill.

One of the trails at Turkey Mountain. Enjoying time outside and in nature is growing in its appeal for Tulsa residents, part of the reason why opposition to an outlet mall on the western edge of Turkey Mountain drew so much opposition.

One of the trails at Turkey Mountain. Enjoying time outside and in nature is growing in its appeal for Tulsa residents, part of the reason why opposition to an outlet mall on the western edge of Turkey Mountain drew so much opposition.

The land was privately owned, but its proximity to the rest of Turkey Mountain drew the ire of a big chunk of the city. A grassroots group – the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition – started, with its initial goal of at least forming a voice to prevent further encroachment into the woods.

But within weeks, it became clear that the group would go further, and actively lobbied against approval of the project. An online petition gained more than 8,000 signatures, and “town hall” events to discuss the mall proposal were packed houses, with most in attendance voicing opposition to the developer’s plan.

The mall was something the city and Simon, a multi-billion-dollar corporation, wanted. But prompted by the TUWC, the people flatly said “no.” Simon pulled out of its deal on that parcel of land and is building elsewhere in the metro area, and for now, the land that had been pegged for development remains as it was.

The bigger benefit, however, is manifold. The community received an organization that promoted the value of wild green space, and with that, volunteer efforts to clean up the forest, repair trails and scour the creeks. Plans are underway to do more, including purchasing land to protect what’s there for the future.

Conservationist advocacy, it would seem, has allowed the community to learn more about what it has, and now that it’s finally on the radar, people suddenly care. Turkey Mountain is no longer out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

CIVIC LEADERSHIP

The beginnings of Turkey Mountain go back a few decades. City leaders back then decided to set aside that patch of land for recreational purposes, and in doing so intentionally tried to keep it as wild as possible. That sort of foresight has led to what it’s become now, a premier outdoor recreation destination not only for locals, but also for people from far outside the city.

But a more recent example of community leadership – and a stunning one at that – comes from down the turnpike.

If you go to Oklahoma City, you’re going to notice a couple of things. First, it’s flat. Very flat. That’s not a knock, it’s just a fact of building a community in the heart of the Southern Plains.

And second, aside from a few manmade lakes, it’s fairly dry. The further west you go in Oklahoma, the skinnier the rivers get.

Now for the stunner: Oklahoma City is home to the U.S. Olympic Rowing Training Center.

How does this happen in a town with a river that city crews used to mow during the summer?

In the early 1990s, city leaders proposed and voters approved a sales tax program to fund a number of projects. A new baseball stadium, an indoor arena, a canal through downtown and a collection of other projects were part of the mix, helping fuel an ongoing renaissance in that city.

But also part of the plan was a series of dams that put more water in the North Canadian River just south of downtown. Now instead of a muddy trickle, a long, broad stretch of water – dubbed the Oklahoma River – flows by, inviting water sports enthusiasts to its shores.

The Boathouse District near downtown Oklahoma City. (Boathouse District Facebook page photo)

The Boathouse District near downtown Oklahoma City. (Boathouse District Facebook page photo)

The response was almost immediate. A couple Oklahoma colleges created rowing teams, holding their practices and competitions there. Boathouses were built, as were bike trails. A triathlon was held. And ultimately, the city was able to recruit the U.S. Olympic program to plant its rowing training center in the middle of Oklahoma.

Where none existed, civic leaders created a water sports culture, one that is growing in popularity. People rent flatwater kayaks. Recreational rowing teams have formed. OKC has even become the scene of annual dragon boat races. The Boathouse District has become one of Oklahoma City’s best outdoor recreation assets.

I won’t say every Oklahoma City resident is now a rowing fanatic, but there are more people being active on the water now then there were before the river project was completed, and demand seems to be rising. Up next for the river is another man-made water feature, a $45.2 million whitewater kayak and rafting course.

Whitewater kayaking? In Oklahoma City? It’s going to happen. The project is under construction, and if past success is any indicator of future results you might see another improbable water sports story unfold in Oklahoma’s capital city.

An artist's rendering of the whitewater park being built near downtown Oklahoma City. (Boathouse District Facebook page photo)

An artist’s rendering of the whitewater park being built near downtown Oklahoma City. (Boathouse District Facebook page photo)

The lesson here is clear: When government takes the health of its people seriously, good things can happen. I’m not sure anyone outside of Oklahoma City would have pegged that community as a burgeoning hub for rowing and paddling sports. I’m sure there were plenty of doubters in Oklahoma City itself. But there it is. City leaders committed to an idea, and more of its people are getting outside and active as a result.

And who knows? Maybe some of these OKC kayakers and rowers will search for wilder places to ply their skills, and in so doing, learn more about the value and importance of healthy waterways.

LOOKING AHEAD

It would be a stark reversal of culture if Oklahoma boating enthusiasts became advocates for protecting America’s wild streams and rivers, but stranger things have happened. I can only point to my own life, having been exposed to nature at a young age and frequently since then, and how those experiences have shaped my views on conservation and health.

In my mind, they’re linked.

I’m under no illusion that places like Oklahoma, or Texas, or anywhere else in Red State country are going to become hotbeds for conservationism. And I don’t expect these states’ health woes to correct themselves overnight.

But think on this: In Tulsa, you have an asset that is widely regarded as one of the premier mountain biking destinations in the country, a highly regarded trail running haunt, and a shining example of what an urban green space can be.

In Oklahoma City, you have a relatively new but nationally known center for human-powered water sports that is growing.

These are things you’d expect in the mountain communities of the Appalachians, the Rockies, the Sierras or the Cascades. Certainly not in the flatlands. And yet here they are.

These are reasons for optimism. People care enough to speak up for the outdoors and outdoor recreation, even to the extent of paying a little extra in terms of tax dollars. Tens of thousands of people are taking charge of their health outside, on their feet, on a bike or in a boat.

And most importantly is this: The more time folks spend outdoors, the more they’ll appreciate the outdoors, as what was once more of an abstract concept becomes front-and-center in their lives. However we can make that happen – as individuals, as advocates, or as elected leaders – is crucial not only for the people we live with, but for the health of the land itself.

Learn more about the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, including how to donate, here. To learn more about Turkey Mountain, go here. And to find information about the Oklahoma City Boathouse District, go here.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain is safe… for now

fall1

When it ended, it was not with a thud or a bang, but with a slow, last gasp.

On Monday, representatives with the Simon Property Group told the city of Tulsa that is was dropping its plans for an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. A new site, likely in the suburb of Jenks, is now being targeted as the place where the retail development giant will turn next.

Some folks at city hall are not happy about this. They really wanted that sales tax money, and they’re not giving up on finding a new place inside Tulsa’s city limits for the mall. But it ain’t happening at Turkey Mountain. Of that, we’re quite certain.

“It’s the nail in the coffin for that particular site,” Clay Bird, the director of the Mayor’s Office for Economic Development, told the Tulsa World. “As far as I know, they haven’t decided anything for certain or officially.”

For Bird, uttering those words had to hurt. He was a big booster of building at the intersection of U.S. 75 and 61st Street, a site overlooking the Westside YMCA kids camp and a lot of wild, wooded acres that outdoor enthusiasts have come to love. But there it is. No need for a city council vote for final approval (or denial) is needed, and I’m sure there are some on that board who are all too happy about that.

So what did we learn? A lot, really.

First, you can never underestimate the power of ordinary people. Thousands signed a petition to stop the mall development, and the social media campaigns to prevent it were numerous. A lot of folks stepped up, let their voices be heard, and faced down big money and (to an extent) city hall to save what they saw as valuable.

Second, the optics of a big retail development looming over a kids’ outdoor camp proved to be the proverbial last straw. Opposition was stout regardless, but the prospect of a kids’ camp losing its most important aspect — that of being in the woods, and away from the city — soured a lot of people on the mall.

And third, there is still a good deal of work to be done. Just because Simon won’t be hauling in the bulldozers doesn’t mean someone else won’t try. The best way to secure the boundaries of Turkey Mountain is to take that piece of land out of play. To preserve it, someone needs to buy it.

Who might that be? It’s hard to say at this point. The Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition won’t come right out and say it’s gunning to buy that specific parcel. But it has been working to raise funds for the purpose of acquiring property to secure Turkey Mountain’s long-term future. You can read between the lines there yourself.

But the price tag is in the millions. So if the coalition is going to do it, it needs help. So here’s what I know:

The coalition has a site set up through the Tulsa Community Foundation to accept funds specifically for the acquisition of land. You can donate to that fund online at the link above.

TUWC also has a GoFundMe site established to raise money for land acquisition and other operating costs.

My guess is that if enough people donate, people with deeper pockets will notice and join in. Suddenly that huge sum of money looks like a much more reachable goal.

So there you have it. The future of Turkey Mountain is safe, for now. But there is a good way to make that future much more permanent. Check the sites listed above, and if you are so inclined, go ahead and donate. It’s a fantastic long-term investment.

Bob Doucette

Do a good deed: Join the TUWC in a cleanup at Mooser Creek on Saturday

cleanup

Something that has encouraged me over the past few months has been the widespread support of protecting Turkey Mountain from development encroachment. People in and around the Tulsa area, whether they are trail users or not, have been very firm in their opinion that the greenspace out there is worth protecting.

People are, whether they know it or not, taking a conservationist view of what should and should not be done at Turkey Mountain. No small feat here in Red State America, but there it is — people care about natural places.

This weekend, there is a great opportunity to take that sentiment to the next level.

The city of Tulsa, along with the Tulsa County Conservation District, Tulsa Westside YMCA, Tulsa’s Young Professionals, Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, Blue Thumb, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is hosting a cleanup day Saturday morning at Mooser Creek, a natural waterway bordering the north side of Turkey Mountain.

Mooser Creek is rare in Tulsa, in that it has been allowed to flow freely without any obstructions or redirections from flood control projects. As a result, its waters are clear and the ecosystem there is unique. Mooser Creek is one of the reasons we want to protect the watershed from Turkey Mountain, and why a certain mall plan has people so concerned. Anyway, I digress.

On the down side, the creek’s proximity to commercial and industrial sites (as well as a major highway) make it vulnerable to litter and trash. So the group I mentioned above is asking for volunteers to help clean the creek.

Meet up at the Westside YMCA, 5400 S. Olympia, then head out. Bring clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, muddy and whatnot. The cleanup will go from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and you’ll be fed if you come (Rib Crib!). Trash bags will be provided, but bring some gloves.

Best yet, you’ll get a chance to see a side of Turkey Mountain most people don’t see often, even regular trail users.

So come on out. Meet some great people. See Mooser Creek. Get free eats. And do good. See you there!

Bob Doucette

A great weekend of running for Tulsa: Great Plains 10K, Snake Run

It’s been a funny year so far for me in terms of running. Yes, I’m still out there pounding the pavement and hitting the trails. But I haven’t been in a race since November, and frankly, haven’t been pushing that hard.

And that’s OK. As much as I enjoy being light and fast, sometimes it’s good to dial it back. Strength training has improved as the miles have decreased. Unfortunately, I’ve put on some weight, and not the good kind.

But if there was a weekend to get back into the whole race thing, last weekend was it.

First off, there was the Great Plains 10K, the first time for this race to be held in Tulsa. I didn’t run it, but I did work an aid station with a pretty cool group of volunteers.

The volunteers at the Great Plains 10K aid station where I worked. They were awesome.

The volunteers at the Great Plains 10K aid station where I worked. They were awesome.

The organizers of the race were kind enough to donate a portion of their proceeds to the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition if we supplied some volunteers, which we did. Twenty-one of us helped work the race, which saw 300 runners compete. For a first-time 10K, that’s pretty good. Race conditions were perfect – upper 40s to low 50s, no wind and overcast. Folks ran hard.

Great Plains wasn’t the only race that day, however. A trail race, the annual Snake Run at Turkey Mountain, was also going on.

I’ve run the Snake Run two times previously. The race has two events: the three-hour race and a six-hour race. The goal is simple, you just run as many miles as you can in the time given. I’ve done the three-hour event twice, topping out at just over 15 miles each time.

The races started at 9 a.m., so I was quite late getting there. But the race director, Ken “TZ” Childress, said those of us who worked the 10K could do a late-start walk-up entry if we wished.

I got there about 10:45, and by the time I ate a little food and got signed up, it was almost 11. The three-hour race would end in a little more than an hour. I wanted to get a good, slow double-digit run that day, but entering the three-hour race wasn’t going to do. So I signed up for the six-hour race.

So here’s the deal: Even though I ran in the six-hour race, I would not run for six hours. In fact, I’m not in shape to run for three right now. The longest run I’d done since November was a mere 7 miles. Even though I wore a bib for the six-hour event, I had no illusions about really being one of the six-hour runners. I figured if I could do three loops on the course and call it a day.

It’s amazing how free you feel without any pressure to perform, to climb the leader board, or to set a PR. Instead, I had time to stop at the aid stations and chat up friends who were working there. I paused to take some pictures. I got lazy and ran-hiked quite a bit. No pressure, just fun.

One aid station, as it turns out, was all booze. A guy named Jason Bement had several types of bourbon, including a home brew which was mighty tasty. I stopped there every time and ended up with a few shots throughout the race.

Jason Bement mans his bandit "hydration" aid station. I made a few stops here to sample the goods.

Jason Bement mans his bandit “hydration” aid station. I made a few stops here to sample the goods.

A friend of mine and a fellow TUWC member named Laurie also made sure I had a few swigs of beer at every stop where she was taking photos. We’ll just call that liquid carb loading or something like that.

I saw a bunch of friends on the course, too. Steve and Brooke, for example, both tagged 15+ miles in the three-hour event. That’s a distance PR for Steve, who just started running with Brooke on the trails last fall. Amazing progress.

Another friend of mine, an athlete named Trace, took third place in the men’s three-hour event, logging north of 23 miles. This dude has turned into one heck of an endurance competitor. His wife and three kids were there as well, cheering him on.

Another gal I know, Katie Kramer-Ochoa, defended her women’s three-hour title with 20+ miles as well. Katie is a regular on the podiums at a variety of road and trail races in Oklahoma, and is also last summer’s overall champ in the Midnight Madness 50-mile race. If you want to beat Katie, you’re going to have to dig deep. Really, really deep.

And another friend who has taken his running to new levels, a dude named Danny, busted off more than 16 miles in the three-hour race. This was his first Snake Run, but he’s already got a marathon and a 25K under his belt as of late.

It was awesome seeing all familiar faces hitting the trail that day.

Of course, more TUWC volunteers were there to help work the Snake Run as well. Colin and Erin, cyclists who have come to love Turkey Mountain, helped serve grub to runners at the start/finish aid station.

Erin Tawney, Colin Tawney and Laurie Biby near that start-finish line. The Tawneys manned one of  the aid stations and Laurie shot photos. All three are hard-working volunteers with the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition.

Erin Tawney, Colin Tawney and Laurie Biby near that start-finish line. The Tawneys manned one of the aid stations and Laurie shot photos. All three are hard-working volunteers with the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition.

I love the hard-charging spirit of the three-hour competitors, the mellow resolve of the six-hour elites and the grit of the rest of the field in doing their best. I’m always in that last bunch, competing against myself, though not this year. Either way, the Snake Run is a fun race.

A three-hour runner gets ready to finish off one last lap.

A three-hour runner gets ready to finish off one last lap.

Here, a six-hour runner throws down in the middle of that race.

Here, a six-hour runner throws down in the middle of that race.

It’s probably time for me to get a little more serious about my running again. I’d love to get back to the point where I was marching up the standings, reaching new goals and getting ready for hitting the peaks later this spring and summer. I’ve had my fun. It’s time to get serious.

But more importantly, what a great weekend of running for Tulsa. It sure seemed like the Great Plains 10K was a success, and TZ put on another great Snake Run. People got to enjoy the trails at Turkey Mountain, and thanks to all the runners, their efforts will help future endeavors to preserve and promote one of the city’s greatest assets.

It’s a little reminder of how great our running community is and can be.

Bob Doucette

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

Turkey Mountain update: The damage that’s already done

There have been a lot of encouraging signs regarding the fight to keep Turkey Mountain’s wild nature intact. The formation of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition was one such sign. The positive reaction to the upcoming cleanup day is another. And the petition against building an outlet mall on the wilderness area’s west side has more than 6,300 signatures now.

People are becoming more aware, and they are standing up for conservation at the local level here in Tulsa.

Unfortunately, not all the news is good. Developers who have proposed the mall are doing “due diligence” work at the site, taking core samples and such. Who knew that such preliminary actions would be so destructive. Below is a sampling of the damage done this week:

For whatever reason, this massive old oak had to be razed. Steve looks disgusted. I know I was.

For whatever reason, this massive old oak had to be razed. Steve looks disgusted. I know I was.

Bye-bye, tree.

More trees that got in the way of heavy machinery.

More trees that got in the way of heavy machinery.

More of the same. Trees that got in the way of “progress.” Thanks, Simon Properties!

One of my favorite views, but now all chewed up.

One of my favorite views, but now all chewed up.

Love the view, but the foreground has definitely been sullied by a tracked earthmover. It cuts deep.

They were guilty of getting in the way.

They were guilty of getting in the way.

A view obstructed by felled trees. These things were living not long ago. Left to rot now.

The tools of destruction.

The tools of destruction.

My friend and fellow blogger, TZ Childress, said it best. These guys are just doing their jobs. But dang. They’re really good at it. Good at breaking stuff.

Two felled trees blocking the Old Boys trail.

Two felled trees blocking the Old Boys trail.

I wonder if these trees were cut to block the trail here.

I took these pics with a couple of running buddies. Steve, who was pictured in the first frame, just got into trail running not that long ago, and in his first race, a half marathon, he won his age group. His girlfriend, Brooke, is a very experienced runner who is also just getting started on the trail running habit. She’s run many marathons and is training for her first 50K, which is coming up pretty quick.

She said that one of her boys, when shown TZ’s pictures of the damage, teared up, wondering why anyone would do this for something as mundane and unnecessary as an outlet mall.

That’s a pretty good question. And it’s one that not only needs to be asked of developers, but also members of Tulsa’s city council. The mall is not a done deal. Nothing has been approved or even discussed in city planning meetings. But that time will come.

Here’s the deal: If this mall gets approved, what is pictured above is just a sampling. Much more acreage will be cut down. Drainage issues look problematic: storm water runoff from a parking lot (which would include toxic things like spilled motor oil, gasoline, other auto fluids and whatever leaks from trash dumpsters) looks like it would flow downhill into a ravine, which eventually drain into Mooser Creek, itself a delicate ecosystem maybe a mile to the north. And who knows what erosion issues we’re talking about.

The loss of woodlands would also put pressure on wildlife habitat, and for trail users, well, some of Turkey Mountain’s best would go away.

There is nothing wrong with building an outlet mall. But building an outlet mall here is such a bad idea. There are better places for one to go. Find one of those. Let’s stop the damage at Turkey Mountain. Contact the mayor and all the members of the city council and let them know how you feel. Sign the online petition. And do it soon.

In the meantime, we have a cleanup day coming up. I invite you to come. What a good time to talk to people how important this is.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: A coalition forms, and takes action

An endangered view at Turkey Mountain. But more people across Tulsa are working to save it.

An endangered view at Turkey Mountain. But more people across Tulsa are working to save it.

A couple of new developments going on at Turkey Mountain, and both are related — to a degree — with the controversial plan to build an outlet mall on the wilderness area’s west side.

Last week, a group of local trail and wilderness advocates got together with Tulsa media outlets to announce the formation of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, a group of individuals and organizations with concerns about preserving and conserving wild space in the Tulsa area.

The idea behind the group is to give people who seek to protect Turkey Mountain a voice, and even more, a seat at the table when the future of that hilly patch of woods is debated. The coalition is getting a lift from the Oklahoma Earthbike Fellowship and the International Mountain Biking Association, both of which are longtime advocates for preserving trails and the wild areas where they exist.

tuwc

The formation of the group is a good sign for Turkey Mountain. It means there are large numbers of people who are concerned about development encroachment on the area and the detrimental consequences it can have for wild spaces that were so wisely set aside decades ago. It’s also an organization that allows for an even broader number of people to get involved not only in speaking out on issues like the mall (though the coalition was careful to note that it is not taking an official position on the controversy), but also becoming a part of activities that will care for Turkey Mountain and potentially other wild spaces in the Tulsa area and northeast Oklahoma.

One of those opportunities is happening this weekend. At 9:30 a.m. Saturday, members of the coalition will be leading a cleanup day at Turkey Mountain, and anyone who wants to be there is invited to come. People are asked to bring work gloves and maybe pruners or loppers. Trash bags will be provided. It’s a great way to give back, and also meet trail and wilderness enthusiasts like yourself. So I’d definitely encourage you to go if you can spare a few hours that morning.

The coalition is already up and running online. It has a website, and you can follow TUWC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

People had talked about forming a group like this for awhile, but it was Simon Properties’ proposal to build an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain that stirred everyone up to the point of getting this thing off the ground. That just shows you how good people rise up when confronted by something they see as a threat to what they hold dear.

So check out what the coalition is doing, learn how you can become involved, and definitely dig into the website to see a slew of interesting articles and posts (including a few from me) about issues affecting Turkey Mountain as well as the wilderness area’s well-chronicled history.

Big Money may want to mow the forest down, but the people want to preserve their woods. We’ll prove it on Saturday.

Bob Doucette