On November 14th, 2019, after nearly a year of community input and interstate collaboration, Tulsa's River Park's Authority revealed their Master Plan for the rehabilitation and expansion of our home base. Faced with the impossibly conflicted, and yet popular, demands of, "Keep Turkey Wild" and "Increase accessibility for everyone", the River Park's Authority, in conjunction with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates tackled a nearly impossible mission...and came back with a nearly impossible answer.
Building the Plan
The Turkey Mountain Master Plan has been a massive undertaking, spanning over most of 2019 and stemming from several town-hall style meetings, as well as the more modern approach of online surveys. "The plan was created with input from the community," Ryan Howell, River Parks Authority employee and manager of the Turkey Mountain social media. "Two meetings attended by 350 members of the public, plus over 4000 online surveys, were the inspiration behind all of this." Howell went on to stress that this plan is long term, and that the plan is intended to be visionary. Finally, Howell introduced a major roadblock to making the plan a reality; "None of this is currently funded."
Key Concept: Land Acquisition
The key to understanding the propose plan is to familiarize yourself with the land that must be acquired to make the plan feasible. The proposed land additions are...
1) The land and trails around the water tower, currently cut off from the Turkey Mountain Core by Elwood and 61st street. Integrating this land would require a removal of large sections of Elwood and 61st, or rerouting the two streets around the acreage.
2) The land south of 1-44 and west of HWY 75, all the way to S. 30th W Ave and including Bales Park. This proposed section would be known as the "Hinterlands" and "Bales"
3) A small section of land along the Arkansas, across 1-44 from the Stink Plant.
4) Johnson Park, a small sports park on the east side of Riverside and 61st.
The Necessity of Conservation
Matt Hill, a representative for Michael van Valkenburgh Associates, elaborated on the necessity and value of open space parks in the function of growing urban spaces. "This is the time for big ideas in lang protection," he emphasized. Turkey Mountain, specifically, provides a unique opportunity that cannot be reclaimed once lost. As an integral environmental point, where the Midwest prairie system meets the Ozark forest, Turkey represents a diminishing landscape in the ecosystem of the nation.
Turkey Mountain is also a rare gem in terms of city planning. Those familiar with the park know that a spectacular view of downtown is boasted at the turnaround point of Yellow Trail on the back of Powerline; the presence of an open space park, so close to the bustling downtown scene, is unusual and worth protecting.
Finally, Turkey Mountain marks a unique social system as well. With close access to downtown, many lower-income neighborhoods, and a major shopping district, Turkey is (relatively) easy to get to, regardless of one's transportation limitations. Additionally, with it being a free public park, it is a true socioeconomic equalizer.
Finally, Hill touched on the challenge of the two main goals of the Turkey Mountain Master Plan: "Keep Turkey Wild" and "Provide something for everyone". These two contradicting aims were both met by keeping the current, "Core" Turkey rugged, while adding new land to the park to expand in accessible and inclusive ways. These two goals were broken into four focuses: 1) Restore Nature, 2) New Access, 3) Sustainable Trails, and 4) Programs.
Focus: Restore Nature
The current practices and lack of stewardship at Turkey Mountain has led to an unbalanced biodiversity. Any mountain biker, trail runner, or hiker who has witnessed the dense, unchallenged undergrowth and encountered trees felled by choking can attest to this. A major, and relatively immediate, proposal to counter this is prescribed burns at the current park. John Weir, a prescribed fire professor at OSU, spoke about the positive effects a burn plan would bring to the Mountain, and listed promoted grassland, plant and animal diversity, wildfire control, and improve water quality and quantity.
The Year 1 burn would involve 120 small sections, due to the density of the underbrush, as well as the relative inexperience of the burn crew with the terrain, Smaller burn sections would allow a greater control, while also allowing for more dense and effect burns. By Year 5, the sections would be larger, amounting to 90 sections, due to the lower density of underbrush and increased confidence of the burn crew. By Year 10, only sixty sections would be necessary.
National company Inter-Fluve was brought in to advise on increasing the water-based elements of Turkey Mountain, and focused their sights on Mooser Creek. Located at the north base of the park, and running behind the Pepsi Plant, Mooser Creek is currently a, frankly, sad excuse for a body of water. With its ecosystem also choked by underbrush, and the quality of water damaged by urbanization and lack of human concern, Mooser Creek is not currently an asset to the park. Inter-Fluve intends to change that, by creating a wider meander, eliminating undergrowth to allow for proper ecosystems, and re-introducing native and necessary plant and creature life to improve the health of the creek.
Focus: New Access
Currently, Turkey Mountain has only two points of access: both the "Lower/Paved Lot" and the "Upper/Gravel Lot" must be accessed at the point where Elwood turns into 61st, meaning there are truly only two entrance/exit options for those reaching Turkey Mountain by car. These two roads do not have designated bike lanes, but can be access via the River Trail System by crossing the 71st street bridge. There is no public transport option for Turkey Mountain.
The following are proposed access points and bridges, connecting more points of interest and more major roads to Turkey Mountain:
1) A new bike/pedestrian connector under the railroads at Mooser Creek, near the Stink Plant. This will connect to an additional land acquisition and a parking lot near the 1-44 on ramp.
2) Johnson Bridge, a pedestrian/bike bridge spanning the Arkansas, connecting upper or lower yellow with Johnson Park on the east side of Riverside Drive at 61st.
3) Bales Bridge, which would span HWY 75 to connect the "Turkey Mountain Core" just south of the YMCA to the proposed "Hinterland and Bales Park".
4) Hinterlands Bridge, which would connect Bales park across S. Union Ave to the westernmost portion of the proposed expansion.
Additionally, the "Upper/Gravel" parking lot would be removed. Additional parking lots are proposed at the following sites:
1) Off 71st st, where the unofficial dump site currently is.
2/3) Two parking lots around the water tower (one on the south side, the other just northwest of the tower).
4) One large lot about a quarter of a mile east of 75 on current 61st St.
5) One massive lot expanding on the current lot at Bales Park.
6/7) Two small lots at the Hinterlands- one at the current Lubell Park, the other off of S Union Ave.
8/9) Two small lots around 1-44 on/off ramps at Elwood: one on the south side, in the currently unused easement of the on/off ramps, and another on the north side.
10) A 400-space lot at Johnson Sports Park.
These parking lot additions will bring 2,010 parking spaces, compared to the current 300 spaces available in the "Upper/Gravel" and "Lower/Paved" lots.
Focus: Sustainable Trails
While part of Turkey Mountain's charm is the effort and hours of experience required to efficiently navigate the terrain, let's get real: most people run the risk of getting lost out there. Additionally, with the serious erosion and constantly altering terrain due to rain, use and decay, most (sane) people won't utilize large segments of the current trail system. Even worse, users will create new trails as a way of getting around unsafe sections of official trails.
Bentonville-based company Progressive Trail Design's Jason Stouder explained the creative concepts behind rebuilding and expanding Turkey's trail system. It is worth noting that Progressive Trail Design's focus seems to be mountain bike trails. While the proposed trail system would technically increase Turkey's trail mileage, many of those additions would be bike-specific, meaning the possibility of decrease miles for trail runners and hikers.
The proposed plan tackles these challenges, first, with a sad reality: not all of our beloved trails are salvageable (I'm looking at you, Lower Yellow and Lower Blue). Due to their origins as organic and entirely unplanned routes, many of the current trails follow "fall lines", and are set up for automatic erosion and drainage issues.
A major, multi-use trail system (orange in the map above) is proposed to increase ease of navigation, while the network of salvageable "secondary" trails will remain intact to preserve Turkey's "wild" aesthetic. Additional trail systems, such as plank-style ADA accessible paths, will increase accessibility to those with limited mobility.
There was a definitive stress on staying away from paved trails; instead, decomposed granite, cupping, and rock armoring were suggested as ways to control erosion and accessibility, without the need for turning Turkey into another branch of the smooth River Trail system.
A program for all sections, both current and proposed, of Turkey Mountain would be a biodiversity promotion program. Closely tied in with the Prescribed Burn Plan, this would focus on increasing the biodiversity of the park to include oak forest, woodlands, savanna, prairie, and the creek-level lowlands. Restored trails and less foot traffic off the designated paths would also support this endeavor.
The North Family Park
A family-focused park north of 1-44, and connected under the railway along Mooser Creek, would include picnicking locations.
Johnson Park (across the Arkansas)
The proposal to revitalize Johnson Park (which is currently little more than a dirt lot with some fencing for a sports park) includes soccer and baseball fields, large playgrounds, and a connecting bridge across the river.
Water Tank Trails
The area around the Water Tanks would be bike-focused, with one-way trails through the center, and a multi-use trail along the perimeter.
Bike Park along 71st Bridge
The section of mostly-unused space south of the "Lower/Paved Lot" but north of 71st would be turned into a large bike-specific section, to include a contour flow, ladder trails, skills park, and jumps park. An additional outdoor veledrome for road bikes was also suggested on the south side of 71st street. A large viewing pavilion would stand where the pink trail currently is.
The current baseball fields would be replaced by a large viewing lawn, with proposed group picnicking sites and a large pavilion for parties and events. A treehouse village and archery range would make it an appealing palce for families with older children as well.
Hinterlands would be the most activity-focused section, with sites for group camping, an aerial zipline (of course, this requires employees to run it safely), an agility course, and the very fantastical idea of a youth equestrian co-op. Hinterlands also borders an old, vacant school, which could potentially be revamped as a maker space/community trade space. The Lubell bike course currently on the grounds would remain intact as a beginner bike course for children and new riders.
Finally, the most important fact shared at the unveiling of the Turkey Mountain Master Plan...
...the Washing Machine is staying.