Communing with Nature on Turkey Mountain

Out & About in Greater Tulsa By EMILY RAMSEY
Managing Editor

URBAN WILDERNESS: Since 1978, Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain has expanded to 300 acres of wilderness that sit between the Arkansas River and Elwood Avenue between 61st and 71st streets. The area is a favorite destination for families, hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, nature lovers and others. Last year, when plans surfaced for a proposed outlet mall to be located next to Turkey Mountain, community members spoke out tirelessly in opposition of the project.

EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers

I will never be proud of the way I react to a spider.
I was in a restaurant recently, and a small bug, which I swear was a baby cockroach, crawled down the wall, a few inches from my seat.

The initial response of most people would be to question the cleanliness of the establishment, but for me, my mind could only focus on one impulse: run! Seeing as that was not a possibility, I then made sure not to lose sight of the creature, for fear that when I did, it would leap off the wall onto me.

My father, not quite grasping the degree of my phobia, calmly handed me a tissue. I told him that, instead, I would need something much bigger, like a shoe. When we determined that a shoe would not be appropriate in this circumstance, I took the tissue and held it a few centimeters away from the insect, never coming any closer. I was paralyzed.

Thus, it should come as no surprise when I declare that I don’t camp nor would I term myself “outdoorsy.”

Yet, when the outcries began last year over a proposed outlet mall to be located next to Turkey Mountain, I thought, why haven’t I ever thought about visiting Turkey Mountain?

I soon discovered why.

Because this more than 300-acre urban wilderness truly is a wilderness.

Desolate, with only a narrow trail of rocks or dirt leading the way, you definitely feel like you are far outside of a city, which is a large part of the appeal for visitors, says Tonja Carrigg, community relations director for River Parks Authority, which manages Turkey Mountain.

“Having this type of activity area is so rare in an urban area. So the community embraces it as an opportunity to experience the great outdoors just a few minutes from home.”

My original concern, when prepping for my Turkey Mountain trek, was getting lost.
When I asked Carrigg that question, she recommended: take a compass, pay attention to the location of the sun and don’t get off your trail.

Easy enough, I thought.

Turkey Mountain features four marked trails that cater to different skill levels and offer various routes, such as straight through the forest or along the Arkansas River.

However, for the untrained eye or a new visitor to Turkey Mountain, losing track of a trail can happen, especially as the trails narrow in spots and often include large rocks and winding hills.

Fortunately, cell phone signals remain strong throughout the area, and its boundaries of the Arkansas River and main roads remain close by, with the sounds of life never too far away – whether that’s the sounds of cars rushing by or of a fellow hiker or cyclist.

I chose to take the blue trail largely because, for the first half of the route, it hugs Elwood Avenue, the western edge of Turkey Mountain, before turning into the woods.

Staying on the trail did not prove challenging in the beginning: every 50 feet or so, a tree is marked with the color of your chosen trail and sometimes with an arrow pointing you further along your way, confirming that you have not misstepped.
However, when my trail turned south to head back to my starting point, things began getting confusing for me.

Maybe I was too distracted by the bugs, the low-hanging tree limbs and the small animals crossing my path to pay close enough attention to my designated trail.

Or maybe I was concentrating so much on the beauty of the forest and the trees, the striking spots of red and blue flowers in among the brush and the general calming feeling that nature often elicits.

After I realized that I had stepped off my blue trail, I just kept heading south – thank you, compass!

Along my way, I passed a hiker who was visiting from Miami, Oklahoma, a jogger, a group of friends and a father-daughter team exploring the insect world.

“People have had their weddings out here; I’ve seen dads carrying their babies, teenagers, people walking their dogs, people riding horses,” says Carrigg, who began mountain biking in Turkey Mountain in the 1980s.

In 2009, a grant from the George Kaiser Family Foundation brought expanded parking, restrooms, climbing boulders and trailhead improvements to the park’s main entrance at 68th Street and Elwood Avenue, all of these additions only adding to the popularity of the area.

“It’s morphed from this unknown, unvaried space over the years into a very well-used place,” says Carrigg.

And if there are ever any further questions of just how beloved the area is, the community’s recent outpouring of anger toward the proposed outlet mall erased those doubts.

Developers will hopefully think twice before they set their sights on Tulsans’ urban wilderness again.

Updated 08-24-2015

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