A master plan being developed for the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area appears to be shaping up as a balance among a few key goals: Keep the wilderness wild; bring in new users; and improve trail conditions.
Turkey Mountain runs from 71st Street north to roughly Interstate 44 between the west bank of the Arkansas River and U.S. 75. A couple of notable ideas the landscape architecture firm developing the plan wants to explore are cutting off through traffic on Elwood Avenue and building a bridge over the river from Turkey Mountain to Johnson Park.
The former appears to have much public support, while the latter is a polarizing proposition, according to Matthew Urbanski, a principal with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.
The River Parks Authority Board of Trustees heard an update from Urbanski on the planning progress during its meeting Thursday morning.
He told trustees that five themes are emerging that consolidate ideas into topics for study. The five “big ideas” are: a unifying loop; go where you want to go; diversity of experience; preurbanized landscape; and right program, right place.
With two of five public meetings on the plan in the books, “we’ve structured our five big ideas that we’re starting to work on as something that was kind of instigated by what we observed and what people wrote down,” Urbanski said.
The street closure and bridge ideas were folded under the “go where you want to go” theme.
The concept is to retain a remote core of the urban wilderness but increase access to its nearly 650 acres with trailheads or parking options in new locations on the property’s outskirts in south Tulsa.
Turning Elwood Avenue into two entrances would allow more parking in areas already disturbed by the roadway and halt through traffic. Urbanski said blind hills, blind curves and fast traffic are a concern.
“Elwood is actually quite dangerous,” he said.
Urbanski said Johnson Park at 61st Street and Riverside Drive has “great positioning” adjacent to Turkey Mountain, separated only by the Arkansas River — an obstacle that could be overcome with a bridge.
He also noted that the riverfront on Turkey Mountain’s east side is a “very cool experience” that could be better leveraged with a trail or trails to the water’s edge and possibly kayak launch points.
“Even by doing those, we preserve the remoteness of the center of the site, which people are concerned about,” Urbanski said.
That concept also is key to the theme: “right program, right place.”
Public comments are favoring keeping “the wild parts as wild as possible,” so planners are looking at implementing programming only in areas that already are disturbed, Urbanski said. Those areas include Elwood Avenue and powerline easements.
“We would preserve the undeveloped, preurbanized landscape and enhance that as an undeveloped landscape,” Urbanski said.
He said interviews with university professors and visits to nearby wilderness preserves — the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Keystone Ancient Forest and Redbud Valley — will help formulate the “pre-urbanized landscape” idea to maintain and manage Turkey Mountain’s wilderness.
The “unifying loop” concept would identify and develop a trail network around the property. Urbanski said studying routes uploaded by users to GPS apps is revealing which existing trails receive the most use and might be brought together into a unifying loop.
He said it’s cool that the urban wilderness organically evolved by people creating trails free from bureaucracy. Users claimed a marginalized space and made it popular, he said, but the “existing circulation network is a maze” with too many trails that wear out resources.
It’s not the presence of too many people that wear down the trails, he said. Consolidation and proper maintenance would allow more users to enjoy better paths.
Urbanski described the width of the trails as “largely good,” except for problem areas where incisions lead to gullies. People tend to avoid those spots, thereby widening the trails.
That suggests that not all the trails will need to be redone but that problem areas could be rehabilitated, he said.
“People are relieved that we aren’t paving paths but making things usable,” Urbanski said.
Creating “diversity of experience” is an effort to expand the pool of users by such things as creating handicap-accessible spots. Urbanski referenced a potential nature boardwalk.
And planners are not looking at accessibility just for elderly people or parents with strollers. He said a “bewildering range” of bicycle activities, from smooth or BMX trails to rock gardens or flow courses, could be possible.
For hikers, runners and bikers, Urbanski said the task is to promote safety and utility but not lose the range of difficulty inherent in the trail network.
Each public meeting has a different focus. But Urbanski said the planning process is iterative and will return to previous topics as details are fleshed out.
“We’re going to come back with more specific ideas and illustrations of how we might achieve some of these things and get feedback on that,” he said. “And then there will be more meetings to come back with reactions to that.”