Foundation Preserves Washington Irving Park
By EMILY RAMSEY
ART IN THE PARK: Walter Gund, president of the Friends of Irving Foundation, poses with models of the two bronze sculptures that the foundation plans to commission for Washington Irving Memorial Park and Arboretum, as part of its Art in the Park program. The foundation was established in 1992 to develop and preserve the park.
As the city of Bixby moves forward on its Vision plans, which were approved in 2015 and include renovations of its area parks, there is one group that is particularly vigilant toward the future of Washington Irving Memorial Park and Arboretum and the original vision for the park.
Washington Irving Memorial Park and Arboretum was established in 1976 as the Bixby Community Riverside Park. Through the years, however, it fell into disrepair and was a regular target of vandals.
The park was renamed in 1992 in Washington Irving’s honor and in recognition of his trek through Bixby. A historical marker previously sat along Memorial Drive, but during the widening of Memorial Drive in the early 1990s, it was lost.
Also in 1992, the Bixby City Council gave the Bixby Optimist Club permission to develop the park into an historical, educational and recreational area, and, therefore, the Optimist Club established the Friends of Irving Foundation that was tasked with the park’s ongoing development and preservation.
The park’s focus is on education and nature, says Walter Gund, president of the Friends of Irving Foundation.
In 1993, the nonprofit organization submitted a master plan for the park, which the city council approved.
Since then, the group has created various memorials including the Murrah Building Children’s Memorial, completed in 1996; the World Trade Center Memorial, dedicated in September 2002; and the Laci Dawn Hill Butterfly Garden, completed in June 2004. The butterfly garden was created in honor of the Bixby woman who was murdered in her home in 1999.
The park is also home to many cub scout projects including the creation of many of its walking trails; currently, a cub scout from Troop 117 is refurbishing a bench on one of the trails.
The foundation’s next step is its Art in the Park program. Once funding is in place, the foundation will commission two full-sized bronze sculptures of two of Irving’s most well-known characters: Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, and Rip Van Winkle. The statues will be created by local, renowned bronze artist David Nunneley.
“Just as NatureWorks bronzes are a unique feature for Tulsa, the Art in the Park program will provide Bixby and south Tulsa County something just as unique,” Gund says.
In the future, the foundation also has plans to construct one of the final projects in its master plan: a nature wildlife observatory, which will be elevated off the ground to allow for bird watching and observing wildlife in the Arkansas River, he notes.
All of these projects line up with the foundation’s long-held vision for the park, as “a place in an urban setting to be in touch with nature,” says Gund, “a peaceful, quiet place to learn, relax and explore nature.”
As the city moves forward with its plans to update its area parks, including adding an access point in Washington Irving Park to the Arkansas River, Gund worries that the original intent of the park could begin to be lost.
“I would just like to see a compromise occur,” he says. “This park has a very big significance for the city. We have something not many cities have: the historical nature of Irving camping in Bixby.”
To donate to the foundation or to gain more information, call 918-629-5598.