Four takes on what Turkey Mountain’s National Recreation Trails designation means

This stretch of trail on Turkey Mountain is now part of the National Recreation Trails system.

This stretch of trail on Turkey Mountain is now part of the National Recreation Trails system.

National Trails Day brought some good news for conservationists and outdoor recreation enthusiasts in northeast Oklahoma. On Friday. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced six sites as being included in the National Recreation Trails System. Three trails on Turkey Mountain are part of that list.

This, on the day before National Trails Day.

The news was spread pretty quickly, and not just a few people were pretty pleased about the designation. Tulsa’s mayor, Dewey Bartlett, joined the chorus — quite a feat, considering how just months before he was talking about putting a restaurant on Turkey Mountain, and in the weeks and months before that, pulling hard for an outlet mall to be built on Turkey Mountain’s west side.

In any case, the news is, indeed, pretty good. But what does it mean? I did a little looking around to see what might happen next, what people’s questions were, and how this might guide future decisions on green space preservation and development along the Arkansas River, which flows past Turkey Mountain’s eastern flank.

Here’s what I came up with…

Turkey Mountain is on quite a winning streak. The National Recreation Trails designation is the latest of many positive developments for Turkey Mountain and its trail system. The outlet mall plan was scrapped after heavy public opposition, and with the passage of a sales tax package in April, the land in question (which was privately held at the time) was purchased and folded into the River Parks Authority system. The land, which had suffered from tree and brush clearing and illegal trash dumping, is slowly being restored to its natural state while most of the garbage dumped there has been removed. There are now more trails permanently protected, and more natural habitat for wildlife preserved for the future. This also bodes well for the Westside YMCA camp, which has a permanent buffer of woodlands to its south.

The Interior Department’s designation has real benefits. Being recognized nationally gives Turkey Mountain specifically and Tulsa generally positive publicity. It further showcases a recreational asset that is uncommon to Midwestern cities. And, by being a part of the national system, Turkey Mountain is now eligible for promotion, technical advice and even potential grant money to make more improvements.

National recognition does not mean a federal takeover. I read through comments on a story about this news, and there were plenty of people bemoaning federal government involvement, takeover, overreach and all the other buzzwords you tend to hear when anything comes down from Washington. However you feel about the federal government, the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area is still locally owned and controlled by Tulsa’s River Parks Authority. It is not part of the National Parks Service, the National Forest System, the Bureau of Land Management or any other arm of the Department of the Interior. Personally, I’m a huge fan of federal public lands. But I also like what we do here locally at Turkey Mountain. That’s not going to change. But opportunities for future improvements and conservation will be enhanced.

The conversation on urban green space is likely to grow and evolve. Turkey Mountain’s journey from an obscure (and sometimes maligned) park to a popular destination was slow, but it accelerated greatly over the past several years. The outlet mall controversy elevated its profile in the city, and usage of its trail system has grown significantly. There is talk about what trail system could be next for improvements — perhaps Chandler Park (great, scenic trails and rock climbing/bouldering awaits), or other places. Development along the Arkansas River will be a hot topic for years to come, with competing interests seeking commercial development vs. more recreational, park-like development. It’s good we’re having these conversations. There will be tension on this front for quite some time, but if park and river corridor development is done right, the city has the potential to be a prime destination for outdoor recreation tourism, and its assets useful tools for overall business recruitment.

I spent part of National Trails Day getting a little dirt under my feet, running a short, hilly loop through the woods. As usual, I saw mountain bikers, other runners, and plenty of families hiking. This is a great thing, and it can be built upon. Already, efforts to do just that are paying off, and we’re getting noticed — not just by fellow Tulsans and Oklahomans, but by people from across the country.

Bob Doucette

Memorial Day on the trails: An agenda-less run

No training goals. No need for speed. Not a care for mileage, pace or whatever. I hit the trails this weekend with no agenda at all.

I worked most of Memorial Day weekend, so there wasn’t going to be any epic outings for me. But I did have enough time to disappear into the woods and hills at Turkey Mountain for a little while.

It’s late spring, and it’s a little like a jungle out there.

So green.

So green.

Surprisingly, there weren’t a lot of people out there, at least not in the areas where I ran. I’m good with that.

Let me see more singletrack like this, please.

Let me see more singletrack like this, please.

While there weren’t many people, it doesn’t mean I was alone. Plenty of wildlife. The squirrels seems to be the noisiest, crashing through underbrush whenever I approached. Lizards and snakes aren’t nearly as careless. And turtles seem to be the quietest.

A trail runner who was slower than me.

A trail runner who was slower than me.

All in all, the forest was ridiculously scenic. That aspect of trail running is one of its biggest allures, and yet can easily be lost when you’re pushing hard. I took my time and savored the scenes, and still got a good sweat out of the deal. I’ll call that a double-win.

This view does not suck.

This view does not suck.

There is a good chance your weekend rocked a little more than mine. But that’s OK. The lesson here is to take what life gives you. If it’s a month, a week, three days or a couple of hours, take it if you can. See where your feet take you. And don’t forget to look around.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: What it means now that Simon has abandoned its original outlet mall plans

An endangered view at Turkey Mountain. Let's preserve the good.

An amazing view at Turkey Mountain. Let’s preserve the good.

I’m going to say something that might shock some of you.

Welcome to the Tulsa market, Simon Premium Outlet Malls.

That’s a phrase a lot of us were more than willing to say, provided that the real estate giant did not plop its planned outlet mall on Turkey Mountain. But in a huge turn of developments, reports have surfaced that Simon has changed its plans, now intent on building its massive retail project on an already cleared piece of property in the Tulsa suburb of Jenks, several miles south and well away from Tulsa’s last great green space, Turkey Mountain.


Simon announced plans to build an outlet mall on a piece of property along U.S. Highway 75 and 61st Street in southwest Tulsa, land that just happened to be at the southwest corner of Turkey Mountain on a piece of privately owned property. The land overlooks a YMCA kids camp and adjoins a large section of wooded wild land, enjoyed by hikers, runners, cyclists and nature enthusiasts. The thought of having such a large project built there (80+ shops) drew heavy community opposition, with worries over loss of trails, stormwater pollution, erosion, loss of wildlife habitat, traffic safety problems and costs all being mentioned.

The outcry was heard by a number of Tulsa City Council members, many of whom voiced skepticism toward the viability and value of having a mall there. The Tulsa YMCA also made its position clear, that the project as proposed was not acceptable given its proximity to the Westside YMCA kids camp. Public forums about the project were one-sided, with large majorities of those attending saying they didn’t want a mall built on the west side of Turkey Mountain.

On Wednesday, a report in the Tulsa World, citing the Jenks mayor and city manager as well as documents from Simon Property Group, showed that the company now intends to build in Jenks, just off the Creek Turnpike. Simon has gone so far to enter into a contract with landowners of the new site in Jenks.


For now, the property at Turkey Mountain will remain undeveloped. Although Simon still has a contract on the tract, the focus of the company has changed. Simon has clearly seen that it will not have public or City Council support for doing what it wants to do at Turkey Mountain. It looks like momentum for Simon’s project has swung south.

The land in question, however, is still in play. Just because Simon wants out does not mean the land’s owners are going to do nothing. Unless conservation is their stated goal, people don’t buy land just to let it sit there. My assumption is that it’s still for sale. So while Simon is focusing elsewhere (and any future investor would face the same hurdles Simon faced), that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

There are efforts underway to take the parcel off the market for good. The Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, which spearheaded efforts to preserve the land, is now an officially recognized non-profit organization that can accept monetary, tax-deductible donations. One of the coalition’s goals is to buy the land if it becomes available. It’s valued at somewhere around $3.2 million. It’s a tall order to raise that much money, but the TUWC has been fighting — and winning — uphill battles since it was formed last fall. If you want to donate, here is a link to the coalition’s GuFundMe site; a link for larger donations through the Tulsa Community Foundation; and for direct donations, you can go to or mail donations to Yorktown Bank, 2222 S. Utica Place, #350, Tulsa, OK, 74114.

This is a big win for conservation. Normally, conservation efforts fall short in Red State America, particularly when it comes to conservation vs. economic development. It doesn’t get any redder than Tulsa. But when people were able to see all the issues at stake — preserving a natural space, promoting outdoor recreation and health, valuing quality of life over tax revenues, just to name a few — they overwhelmingly sided with conservation. There is plenty of room in and around Tulsa for economic development, but very little space given to places like Turkey Mountain. Tulsans should be proud for having seen this and, more importantly, acting on it. The message of many voices is strong, even when the goal is a little outside what is normal within the region’s prevailing politics.

This is a big win for Tulsa. Certain people at City Hall may disagree (on the grounds that the city is losing out on potential tax revenues), but in the long run, this is good for the city. Turkey Mountain is a tremendous asset for Tulsa. It’s a draw not only for Tulsa-area residents, but for those living outside the metro area and even outside Oklahoma. People go there to enjoy the trails, coming from all over the country. They spend money here. And for people looking to relocate, having an asset like Turkey Mountain is just the sort of thing that makes the city look more attractive. Preserving and even enhancing places like Turkey Mountain is critical in terms of recruiting young professionals and even entire companies. Very few cities in the Midwest and the South have such a place. We do. Turkey Mountain is a huge selling point. Protecting it should be a priority.

But what about those potential lost tax dollars? It’s not that cut-and-dry, given that Simon wanted a large tax increment finance district set up to help fund construction of the mall and the substantial infrastructure improvement that would be needed. Given the uncertainty of the plan’s success at that location, the possibility exists that the sales taxes earned at the mall might not offset the city’s costs. Even so, Tulsa can still get behind another outlet mall project on the city’s east side. If economic development really is that big of a priority, that’s where City Hall’s attention should go. If the city can help that project succeed, it will get the new revenues it seeks and enhance quality of life by protecting its natural assets.

Keep in mind, nothing is set in stone. All kinds of wheeling and dealing can change things on the turn of a dime. But this week’s news should be welcomed as a positive development and be seen as a call for further action. The next step is solidifying the future of the all the property in Tulsa’s urban wilderness. Act accordingly!


Bob Doucette

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


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

Turkey Mountain update: Simon gets a case of the yips, postpones mall hearing again

An endangered view at Turkey Mountain. Let's preserve the good.

An endangered view at Turkey Mountain. Let’s preserve the good.

Already postponed once, Simon Property Group has asked for yet another delay in presenting revised plans for its outlet mall on the west side of Turkey Mountain.

The company was set to appear before the Tulsa Planning Commission on April 15, a date that already reflected a postponement from its originally scheduled March hearing. And now, this: They want more time and wish to wait until June 17 to unveil their revisions.

I have a few theories on why this latest delay occurred. So here goes:

– Simon was taken by surprise over the public reaction to the proposed mall. This is a company used to getting its way, particularly in cities hungry for new tax revenue. The initial pushback last fall was probably ignored,with the thought that it would subside over time. Instead, it has only grown. The online petition against the mall has nearly 8,500 signatures, and the crowds at two public forums to discuss the mall plan have been decidedly against Simon’s proposal. There are a smattering of voices who are OK with Simon’s plan, but they are greatly outnumbered by those who are not.

– Simon has not won over the Tulsa City Council. While the mayor’s office has been in full support of Simon’s endeavors, other city council members have been either silent or in opposition. City council members will be the ones who will have final say over whether this project is allowed to proceed, and right now, it doesn’t look good for Simon. (Contact city council members here; emails, calls and letters are making a difference.)

– Simon was taken aback by demands for changes made by the Tulsa YMCA. The YMCA operates a kids camp directly north of where Simon wants to plop its mall, and board members are not happy about the detrimental effects the mall will have on camper experiences. The changes they seek are significant, and would alter the cost and feasibility of the project considerably.

– Simon was not prepared for the organized local opposition that has formed. The Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition has turned into a credible, reasonable yet potent force in this debate. Other grassroots groups have also formed, further driving the issue home to Tulsa residents.

– Simon would like more time to possibly see the “heat” wear off.

All that is well and good, but no delays or revisions are going to change a few facts about why this proposal is bad for Tulsa. Here’s why:

– The location is bad for a large retail development. Simon would be building an outlet mall competing for shoppers in an over-retailed area (Tulsa Hills and The Walk at Tulsa Hills are just south of the proposal site). The road servicing the intersection — two lanes, no shoulders, steep hills and two big curves — is not capable of dealing with the increased traffic a mall would bring, and would be dangerous to shoppers, commuters and residents who live in the area.

– The erosion, litter and light pollution problems are not going to be solved with a few tweaks. Sorry, but when you build on top of a hill with steep ravines below, there will be storm water drainage problems, line-of-sight issues and blowing trash. Pollution concerns for the Mooser Creek watershed are real. And no matter how you aim your parking lot lights, it’s going to be a huge shining eyesore overlooking the YMCA camp and woodlands below. All of Turkey Mountain will be affected by this, and none of those effects will be good.

– The area is better preserved for recreation purposes. When it comes to quality of life, we only have so many wild green spaces. We have plenty of retail. Surveys have been conducted showing that the young entrepreneurial class of people who cities are trying to attract value outdoor recreation opportunities highly, and will often use that as a factor in determining where they will live and do business. Shopping is down the list. Degrading Tulsa’s top outdoor recreation asset is simply not in the city’s best interest, especially when you consider the culture such a place helps develop — healthy people who spend money on bikes, hiking gear, running gear, race entry fees and so forth. And because Turkey Mountain has become a regional and even a national draw for outdoor recreation enthusiasts and athletes, you’re seeing people come to Turkey Mountain from out-of-state, spending money on meals, hotels and more while they’re here. Go to Turkey Mountain on a sunny day, especially on the weekend, and you’ll see two full parking lots and trails filled with cyclists, hikers, runners equestrians and families just looking for some good outdoor time. Memories are made on the trails. Not in shopping centers.

So my advice for the executives at Simon is simple. Use the time between now and June 17 to rethink this whole deal. Use it to find another place to build your mall. Honestly, we’d love to see you succeed in that realm, just not at the expense of Turkey Mountain and all that it means to us. And if this is not possible, then use this time to plan a graceful exit. There isn’t going to be a proposal at Turkey Mountain that is going to work for you or for us. The sooner you realize that, the better off you, your shareholders and our city will be.

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

Turkey Mountain update: Simon Group meets with Tulsans about mall plan, and the reception gets chilly


There has been a lot of action on the plan to build an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain, with representatives of the Simon Group meeting with members of the community and city officials as the approval process grinds on.

Simon reps has been putting on a charm offensive just before going over their plans with the Tulsa Area Planning Commission, and they even met with members of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition to discuss that group’s concerns about the mall proposal a few days before the Planning Commission meeting took place last  week.

I got a summary of how that meeting with coalition members went, and I attended the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday. Here’s a breakdown of what we’ve learned from last week’s meetings:

Simon claims to have plans for a five- to six- lane bridge and that the state Department of Transportation will allow them to replace the 61st Street bridge at their own expense. Simon intends to get a tax increment finance district designation from the city to reimburse them for this expense, which is essentially a tax break on things like property taxes to be repaid over time if/when property values rise and other revenues from the project come in (not a sure bet). That still does not address the traffic impact on the Interstate 44/U.S. 75 interchange. Coalition members showed them the problematic access issues with the dysfunctional service roads on both sides of I-44 as well as the short merge areas on U.S. 75 over I- 44.

Simon offered no answer for the public safety issue of the Elwood Avenue and 61st Street corridor to the east of the property entrance for their strip mall. John Dionis, with Simon, blames park users for making the road dangerous by parking on the sides of the road. It was pointed out that is the pent-up demand for recreation and green space.

Simon has no plan in place to deal with trash blowing from their property onto adjacent properties. This is something the actual permanent site management will apparently address once it is hired and placed on site. Adjacent properties include the Westside YMCA (which hosts summer camps for kids, among other programs) and wild land used by hikers, cyclists, equestrians and other people seeing time outdoors.

Simon appears reluctant to share any of its 2,000 parking spaces with trail users. Instead, the company plans to go to the George Kaiser Family Foundation (one of the property owners adjacent to the proposed mall site) and see if the foundation would mind tearing up its property to put an additional 50 or so parking spaces and trailhead access. It’s been communicated to Simon that trail users do not want to sacrifice even more wild land for parking.

Simon claims its retaining walls will be constructed of wood. At some point, the fill area to be contained by these retaining walls will be 70 feet high. Though terraced in 10- to 15-foot sections, this bears more scrutiny.

Simon is projecting 750 cars per hour transiting the mall site at peak times. A traffic study was mentioned at last week’s Planning Commission meeting, but it was not presented at that time. There is no way right now to examine how Simon got to that number. Regardless, this is pretty heavy traffic for a single entry-exit plan on a road that will taper to two lanes just east of the proposed mall site’s access point.

Coalition members explained they are concerned about contaminants in the stormwater runoff. Simon claims it has ways to address this, but other than describing use of a greenbelt and different kinds of plants and soils to absorb such runoff, those plans are still a little vague. During last week’s Planning Commission meeting, a Simon official basically said they’ve done scores of similar projects before and to just “trust us.” I hope that condescending brush-off did not go unnoticed by the Planning Commission. It certainly did not escape me.

Coalition members pointed out the sightline issue from the ridge to the east and how this ruins the experience for trail users. Simon claims it will have its architect meet with coalition members, walk the valley and western leg of Snake Trail and devise a way to make the view more palatable. This shows they likely have never walked this area, just the property they intend to develop. One might describe that as a case of disconnect.

Simon said there was no possibility of developing on another site or partnering with one of the other developments. A site between 61st & 71st, Union and U.S. 75 apparently had bigger site challenges than this site.

Simon fully believes it can have a widened bridge over U.S. 75 done, site work complete, and open for business in fall 2016. More than a few people find this hard to believe.


The Planning Commission meeting went as you’d expect, but with a few interesting twists. After trying to butter up the locals with how much they enjoyed Tulsa barbecue, Simon reps presented their plans, answered questions, and then declined to talk to local media covering the meeting.

What was interesting to me was how many questions Planning Commission members asked, and how they specifically mirrored the concerns that me and many others have been driving home over the past few months. What that tells me is that they have been hearing the message from people in the community.

They’re not alone. Apparently, so have many Tulsa City Council members. In a story in Sunday’s Tulsa World, a good number of city councilors voiced displeasure at the proposed mall plan. One councilor, Jeanie Cue (whose district is includes Turkey Mountain and the proposed mall site) is going to hold a public forum to discuss it. At this point, only Mayor Dewey Bartlett and his staff seem to be for it. The rest of the council – which has final say in whether or not this happens – seems far less enthusiastic.

That tells me the message is getting through. As the public educates itself on the problems of the site, and what’s at stake, more and more people are souring on Simon’s plan. It’s not that people don’t want an outlet mall, they just don’t want one that eats into the city’s best urban green space – an asset prized and promoted by the city – and they don’t want one that looms over a great facility like the Westside Y.

It also tells me that councilors are hearing from voters, and they’re listening. Letters and emails keep coming. The online petition keeps growing.

I have no problem with Simon or anyone opening an outlet mall in Tulsa, just not there. More and more of you seem to agree.


Clearly, this is not a done deal for Simon. Anything but. But stopping it from happening is also not a done deal. So here are some suggestions:

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, and contact the mayor here.

If you live in District 2, 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 at the Marriott Tulsa Southern Hills, 1902 E. 71st Street.

If you can, be at the next Planning Commission meeting. Public input will be allowed at this meeting, and the commission needs to hear your concerns. And you can bet that those accountable to voters – the mayor and the council – will be paying attention to what happens there. The meeting is at 1:30 p.m. March 18 at 175 East 2nd Street, 2nd Level, One Technology Center, in the Tulsa City Council Chambers.

If you haven’t signed the online petition, do so. It’s well over 7,300 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.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: A bad mall plan’s details are revealed, and it still looks pretty bad

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.

The latest news on what’s happening with the outlet mall on Turkey Mountain is twofold: it’s not unexpected, but it’s also very revealing.

The Simon Group recently submitted more detailed plans for its proposed Premium Outlets project that it wants to build on the west side of Turkey Mountain. The site is on a privately held parcel next to the Westside YMCA and undeveloped wild land that is part of the greater Turkey Mountain area.

Simon is promising jobs and shopping. What it wants is permission to build right on top of one of the last urban green spaces left in the city, and they’ll be asking for help from the city in the form of a tax increment finance district designation, which is basically a temporary subsidy funded by you and me so they can make the needed infrastructure improvements.

If you’ve read past posts on this topic before, you know I’m not in favor of building an outlet mall there. To recap my reasoning:

The site is a bad place for a mall. The roads leading to the site are just two lanes wide, they’re very hilly, and feature a couple of sharp turns as 61st Street turns into Elwood. Traffic in that area is already bad and will grow worse by several magnitudes if a shopping center goes up there. Widening those roads will be a nightmare to people already living nearby, and it will only get worse if and when that mall opens.

A multi-billion dollar company like Simon shouldn’t be asking for taxpayer money to build an outlet mall on such a bad site. TIF districts can be good, particularly if they end up paying off in the long run. But given how bad this site is, and how much money Simon has, approving this plan AND handing over taxpayer money is just wrong.

No matter how it’s built, an outlet mall cannot be a good neighbor. Representatives from the Westside YMCA have already gone on record with KJRH-TV that they have concerns about what a mall right on top of them would mean in terms of YMCA camper experience and erosion (I’ll get into that point in a minute). And I’ve already mentioned what’s in store for the residents living nearby if Simon moves in.

A collection of 80 stores, lots of cars and a huge parking lot presents serious drainage and pollution concerns. The proposed mall site is on a flat space with a steep dropoff into a ravine that drains into Mooser Creek, a diverse and fragile ecosystem of which all of Turkey Mountain is connected. The mall site would present rainwater runoff concerns in the form of erosion and upstream pollution from all those cars and trash dumpsters. And given how much trash already blows around, the outlet mall would only add to that problem. Simon contends it can angle parking lot lighting away from the rest of Turkey Mountain, but no matter what they do, light pollution will be present.

Wild land and a commercial shopping development are not compatible. It’s already been established that the River Parks Authority and the Kaiser Family Foundation – the two main stakeholders on Turkey Mountain – have no plans to do anything but keep the urban wilderness area wild. Wildlife in the area already deal with a fairly compressed environment, and taking a big chunk of that away would only stress those populations more.

The outlet mall at Turkey Mountain would degrade quality of life for Tulsa. Notice I didn’t say an outlet mall on its own is a bad thing. But rather an outlet mall in that location would degrade a real asset for the city, an area with more than 40 miles of wooded trails for hikers, cyclists, runners, geocachers and equestrians. Individuals and families go there to experience nature on its terms without having to drive out of the city. As it exists, the greater Turkey Mountain area is a prime site for people to get outside, exercise and get in tune with nature like no other place in the city. Plopping a mall on a chunk of that land would degrade the experience.


Simon’s more detailed proposal as submitted to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission reveals a few interesting notes. For starters, it still includes just one entry and exit, a problem given the amount of traffic one might expect at a large retail center, and magnified when you’re talking about a two-lane road feeding it.

The edge of the development will butt right up against a steep dropoff into a drainage area to the east, so those erosion and drainage issues are very real. I’d hoped that they’d at least put some distance between the mall and the ravine, but their drawings show that is not the case.

Simon suggested that they might be willing to include some sort of trail, if feasible, into their plans. So they’re throwing us a bone. Sort of.


If this mall proposal bothers you, there are some things you can do. So here are my suggestions:

Email the mayor’s office and each of the members of the Tulsa City Council. Respectfully and concisely let them know how you feel, and why you don’t want an outlet mall at that location. You might be reminded that it’s private property, but you still have a say in how and if projects like this are approved or denied. Contact the mayor here, and find contacts for the city council here.

If you haven’t already done so, sign the electronic petition. There are more than 6,900 signatures on it now. Add to that number here.

Attend future meetings of the Planning Commission and, if it gets that far, the Tulsa City Council, when this development is being discussed. The more faces these people see and voices they hear, the more city officials will listen. On Thursday, Feb. 19, the Planning Review Committee, immediately following the 1:30 p.m. TAC meeting, will meet at 2 West 2nd Street, 8th Floor, in the Large Conference Room of the Williams Tower II Building in downtown Tulsa. No comment is taken at this meeting, but a large, silent crowd will make an impression. And then  during  a follow-up meeting, zoning changes and corridor plans will be reviewed March 18 at 1:30 p.m.,  175 East 2nd Street, 2nd Level, One Technology Center, in the Tulsa City Council Chambers. They will take public comment at that meeting. Be at those meetings if you can.

Find ways to volunteer. There are periodic cleanup and trail maintenance days out at Turkey Mountain, so be looking for opportunities to join such efforts. Also, consider joining the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, which is actively advocating for preserving and promoting Turkey Mountain as well as organizing activities like those cleanup days, among other things.

Keep using the trails, and spread the word to people you know how great it is. Many people still don’t know much about Turkey Mountain, and they won’t care about a place they don’t know or ever see. This tide is swinging the other way now, and for the better. But the more people who care about Turkey Mountain, the more city leaders will take their points of view into consideration.

Stay tuned, get active, and I’ll see you out on the trails.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: Mall developer unveils its plans, and what you can do about it

I love these views at Turkey Mountain. But they're at risk.

I love these views at Turkey Mountain. But they’re at risk.

It’s been a little while since I’ve touched on the developments surrounding a proposed outlet mall at Turkey Mountain in Tulsa. Quite a bit has happened since then.

First, a few preliminaries for those of you unfamiliar with Turkey Mountain…

Turley Mountain is an urban wilderness area in southwest Tulsa, intentionally left as wild as possible and undeveloped, with the exception of a system of dirt trails and minimal signage. It’s become a local haven for hikers, cyclists, runners, families and equestrians, and it’s a true asset to the city.

Turkey Mountain is a conglomerate of properties. The city’s River Parks Authority operates the eastern part of Turkey Mountain, while the western section is privately owned by an assortment of property owners. Established trails run throughout the west side, including some which lead to the Westside YMCA. One piece of property is owned by a landowner who is seeking to sell it to Simon Properties, a huge mall development company that wants to build an outlet mall there. Construction of such a mall – and the infrastructure expansion that would come with it – would disturb or destroy wildlife habitat, eat some of those trails, and could have other negative impacts on the watershed in the Turkey Mountain area.

Needless to say, a lot of us are opposed to this proposal and would like to see the outlet mall built somewhere else. But Simon is intent on going through with its plans. On to the updates…

Simon unveiled its plans

On Friday, Simon Properties unveiled its plans for its proposed mall at Turkey Mountain. They’re dubbing it “Tulsa Premium Outlets,” boasting that it will have 80 stores and bring 800 jobs to the area, according to the Tulsa World newspaper.

A map of the outlet mall Simon Properties wants to build at Turkey Mountain's west side.

A map of the outlet mall Simon Properties wants to build at Turkey Mountain’s west side.

The map of the proposal shows what Simon calls an open air “village” type format, surrounded by a large parking lot. I didn’t see anything on the plans to indicate a buffer between the lot and the rest of Turkey Mountain, aside from what I guess is the thin strips of green along the fringes; all I can assume is that the mall will be separated from the rest of the area by a fence, a wall, or something like that. I could be wrong about that. Maybe Simon has plans to mitigate the encroachment this mall would have on the rest of Turkey Mountain. If so, a bunch of us would like to hear it.

Simon has competition

Friday’s press conference was the third of three from outlet mall developers this fall. Two other competitors – the Cherokee Nation and Horizon Properties earlier showcased plans for upscale outlet malls on the east side of the Tulsa metro area.

The Cherokees want to build a huge outlet mall adjacent to their golf course and casino complex in Catoosa, a small town just northeast of Tulsa. The city of Tulsa would rather have something inside Tulsa’s city limits as to collect sales tax dollars. So the money angle is big. But the Cherokees have the land, the money and the existing attractions to make it work.

Horizon’s proposal is on Tulsa’s east side and within the city limits. But for whatever reason, the city seems to like Simon’s proposal better.

In any case, there is agreement that only one of these proposals is going to actually turn into reality. All three are competing to sign up the retailers needed to be viable. So the race is on.

Money seems to trump the grand plan

Interestingly, the city’s long-term plan for Turkey Mountain does not include retail development.

Over the years, planners and advisory groups – working in conjunction with city officials and a regional municipal planning group, the Indian Nations Council of Governments –  had formed an opinion and a plan for the entire Arkansas River corridor as it runs through Tulsa, including Turkey Mountain, which is on the river’s west bank.

Not only does the plan not say anything about plopping large retail developments around Turkey Mountain, it actually advocates expanding the wilderness area.

According to INCOG’s Arkansas River corridor master plan:

“Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area occupies one of the most prominent locations along the river corridor and represents a unique opportunity for substantial urban wilderness in close proximity to the heart of metropolitan Tulsa. The park should be expanded to the extent possible through the acquisition of adjacent undeveloped property and preserved in perpetuity as an urban wilderness/open space area, Development within the park should be limited to uses complementary to this great natural resource, such as hiking, equestrian trails and stables, environmental education and related uses.” (emphasis mine)

And here we are now, with a huge corporation waving dollar bills in people’s faces, and the city seems to be forgetting what planners, through a lot of thought and study, decided what was best for the area.

So some points…

Tulsa Premium Outlets isn’t just near the Turkey Mountain area referenced above. It would be inside of it. While the land on which it would be built is privately owned, it is still part of the larger area the master plan deemed needed for the preservation of wild land “in perpetuity.”

City leaders, in considering Simon’s proposal, need to be asking how the mall fits into the master plan, and come to the correct conclusion that it doesn’t. The INCOG plan said anything developed in that area should somehow promote or complement activities “such as hiking, equestrian trails and stables, environmental education and related uses.” How exactly does a shopping center do that? The answer is simple. It doesn’t.

The city needs to think regionally, and realize that there are other viable proposals that can fill the outlet market. The Tulsa Regional Chamber has made a big point of not just promoting economic activity inside Tulsa’s city limits, but to think regionally. So on that front, the Cherokees’ plan makes sense. It’s a natural spot for development and wouldn’t consume any wild land. And if the city and business interests are dead set on having an outlet mall inside the city limits, Horizon has a plan for that.

The city needs to take a hard look at environmental impact. The watershed into Mooser Creek is quite large, encompassing the bulk of the greater Turkey Mountain area. Do we know what pipeline relocation, road widening and mall construction will do to the watershed? How will all that affect the YMCA? How many trails are going to be lost due to the mall and to road widening? How badly is wildlife going to be squeezed? And lastly, with all these serious questions out there, is it really worth it to move forward?

I know INCOG’s blueprint is not law or anything like that. But it’s a wise plan, one that takes into consideration that some things are worth more than the short-term gains of increased sales tax dollars and low-wage retail jobs.

This is what Turkey Mountain should be about. Shopping can happen anywhere. But  we only have so many trails for families to enjoy.

This is what Turkey Mountain should be about. Shopping can happen anywhere. But we only have so many trails for families to enjoy.

What we gain from keeping Turkey Mountain wild is immense. Wildlife keeps its habitat. People win from having a wild place in which they can go, get healthy and be out of an urban environment. And preserving the area not only puts a stamp on positive community values, it also gives us an opportunity to teach children the value nature offers.

For city planners and the City Council, I’d ask that they remember these points before rubber-stamping Simon’s project.

As for those of us in Tulsa, it’s time for a little action. There is a petition you can sign where you can show support in keeping Turkey Mountain wild. You can write and call your City Council representative to let them know what you’re not keen on an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. And if you’re on social media, post your photos and opinions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and tag it with #KeepTurkeyWild.

Time to get crackin’, folks. Be heard.

Bob Doucette

Update on Turkey Mountain: Addressing the ‘private property’ argument

Private property? Yes. But its fate affects more than just developers and potential shoppers.

Private property? Yes. But its fate affects more than just developers and potential shoppers.

“But it’s private property. They can do with it what they want.”

That’s the argument I hear the most when talking about opposing the planned outlet mall on the west side of Turkey Mountain.

But that argument, as reasonable as it sounds to some, is far from airtight. I’ll get to that in a minute.

To recap: Mall developers/corporate behemoth Simon Properties announced in August that it was near to closing a deal on a patch of privately owned property at the northeast corner of 61st Street and U.S. 75 in southwest Tulsa. The parcel is one of many privately owned plots in the Turkey Mountain area, west of land already owned and maintained by the city of Tulsa’s River Parks Authority.

There are a lot of trails all over the west side of Turkey Mountain, including the 50-acre site for the proposed outlet mall. If the mall gets built, a minimum of 1.5 miles of trails and a whole lot of wild woodlands will get wiped out. This will squeeze wildlife that live in the forest, and construction of the needed infrastructure for a mall will certainly eat more woodland acreage in the form of road widening and other needed projects to handle the automobile traffic that would come with a large, busy shopping center.

Mountain bikers, runners and hikers have risen up in opposition of this plan, saying the mall should go somewhere else and to leave what is left of the forest alone.

Where it stands: The project is in its embryonic stages. The city of Tulsa has yet to receive any plans for the mall, and no requests for rezoning have been made.

And lastly, why the “private property” argument has some gaping holes: Simply put – and contrary to what many are saying – you can’t simply “do what you want” with property you own. At least not within the city limits.

Let me show you why.

Let’s say you own a nice one-acre plot in a growing, off-the-beaten-path subdivision that is interspersed with 3,000-square-foot homes and yet-to-be developed home sites inside a good school district. But then the developer gets a great deal from an investor, sells 20 of these plots, and then allows the investor to construct a 40-story office tower (with an adjoining parking garage) smack in the middle of your neighborhood.

Or maybe you live in an older, established neighborhood of Tudor-style brick homes, and a buyer snaps up 20 acres across the street, next door to your kids’ school, and opens up a commercial hog farm and processing plant.

Or let’s say you’re on a tony city block of stately brownstone row houses, and a private prison company plops a 200-cell lockup one block over.

The developers promise lots of jobs and increased revenues for the city.

In each case, we’re talking about developers buying land, and then with their new investment, doing what they please to make a buck. And yet, none of these situations would ever really happen, right?

Damn straight. And why is that? Because cities and towns have regulations on how property inside their boundaries can be used. That’s why zoning ordinances exist. It’s why we have planning commissions, which are in turn served by planning departments. It’s why those departments and commissions study proposed developments, hold public hearings (and allow ordinary citizens’ input) and make recommendations to city leaders.

It’s why fertilizer plants don’t operate in the middle of subdivisions, why strip clubs aren’t next door to schools. It’s the reason why we see residential areas separated from industrial parks, and why we don’t let people build in flood plains.

Outlined in red is where the outlet mall would go. But you can be guaranteed the impact of the mall would far exceed those boundaries.

Outlined in red is where the outlet mall would go. But you can be guaranteed the impact of the mall would far exceed those boundaries.

These are good things. As much as people decry government intrusion in private business dealings, these rules are in place so a community can function in a healthy, sustainable way. They are a reflection of community values.

I’m not so silly as to believe that an outlet mall is as outwardly outrageous as the fictitious scenarios I listed above. But I will make a case that leaving that 50-acre plot wild is far better than ripping the trees down and paving it over for the sake of yet another boxy shopping center.

As it exists, the acreage in question is grass, trees and underbrush. Part of it has been partially cleared. But it is still undeveloped, with the exception of several stretches of singletrack trail.

So let’s talk about those trails. People use them. They use them to get outside and get fit, whether that is on foot or on the seat of a bike. This is good. I’d go so far as to say it’s crucial.

Oklahoma has the seventh-highest obesity rate in the nation, according to a recent report from the Tulsa World newspaper. As reported by health writer Shannon Muchmore: At 32.5 percent, only West Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Louisiana are worse. And Oklahoma’s problem is growing. Although the state was ranked No. 6 the previous year, the obesity rate that year was actually lower than it is now.

High obesity rates also mean higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer. These lead to higher medical costs, greater household financial strain and higher insurance costs for all of us, regardless of how fit we are. We all pay more for our state’s poor health.

A wise public policy decision would be to encourage investment or maintenance of things that get people off their butts and active. Sometimes good economics is not measured in sales tax dollars collected, but rather money that is not spent on failing health.

An outlet mall won’t help here. A healthy trail system will.

On to the next point, and it goes straight into the heart of conservation.

We all need a place to live. For non-humans, wild places are home.

I was reading a piece from a publication called the Tulsa Voice, which interviewed a naturalist at the Oxley Nature Center, another small but well-preserved wild area near Tulsa. As reported by the Voice’s Molly Bullock:

“Eddie Reese, director of Oxley Nature Center, said the potential development would wipe out many smaller residents of the site, including hundreds of arthropod species, ornate turtles and three-toed box turtles, skinks, lizards and several species of snakes.

“ ‘All those things that live there now pretty much won’t be able to leave,’ he said. ‘They’re too small, too slow. So they’re not going to make it.’

“Flying squirrels, which occupy Oxley Nature Center and Mohawk Park, might also reside in the Turkey Mountain area, Reese said. Unlike the more common fox squirrel, flying squirrels are nocturnal, which makes them particularly vulnerable to development.

“ ‘The bulldozers will come in during the daytime and start pushing things around, preparing the ground for development,’ Reese said. ‘… [Flying squirrels will] be holed up in a hollow tree, and they will get pushed over.’

“Larger animals like foxes, coyotes and bobcats would be forced into territory already occupied by their counterparts. The reduced hunting and nesting area would also squeeze out Red Tailed Hawks, Screech Owls and other birds.

“ ‘[A habitat] can only get so small before some animals have to just leave the area completely,’ Reese said. ‘I don’t know how small that really is for them.’ ”

Reese went on to describe more consequences to local wildlife:

“ ‘I think sometimes people think that we don’t really need nature, because we’re separated from it,’ Reese said. ‘… What they forget is that everything is tied together, and when you start taking pieces of that puzzle out, the puzzle starts to fall apart.’ ”

“The connections are intricate and hard to overstate. For example, hummingbirds build their nests with silk from spider webs, Reese said.

“ ‘If you don’t have spiders … then hummingbirds won’t be making nests,’ he said. ‘They won’t be laying eggs, and before too long, we won’t have any hummingbirds. … Now, how many connections like that are there … that we don’t know about? How is a turtle important; what is it connected to? … How much can you afford to lose?’ ”

These are important points, as a lot of families go out to Turkey Mountain with their kids so they can see nature first-hand. How much encroachment will it take before that experience goes away? Can you put a price on what value such a thing has for a community?

So what does that boil down to? It’s pretty simple. What do you want your community to be? Do you want a say in how it’s developed? Because if you live in Tulsa, you have a say. Development and growth are natural progressions for any vibrant city, and no one is arguing that there isn’t room for an outlet mall in Tulsa.

But the question is how this specific piece of land is to be used. Is it better to leave it wild (and include that in a use plan that’s good for all parties involved), or do we allow it to be mowed down at the expense of trail users and existing wildlife? What levels of sacrifice are we willing to make for the purpose of making a buck?

At some point, Simon Properties – owners of malls in every U.S. state, including Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa –  will likely put forth a proposal to the Tulsa Planning Commission. Sometime after that, the commission will have a public meeting to discuss those plans. If this is important to you, contact Planning Commission members. If and when the outlet mall plan is discussed at a Planning Commission meeting, be there and let your voice be heard.

The property in question is private property. But how it’s managed or developed will have an impact on Tulsa, and for that reason, we all have a say in how that goes down. The rules that won’t allow a slaughterhouse to be built beyond your backyard fence are the same as those that will determine the fate of what happens at Turkey Mountain.

Bob Doucette