This post is part of the River Parks “Tour of the Park” web article series. Each month, we will highlight the history, attractions, and terrain of a different area of River Parks.
Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area
As a River Parks employee, it has been my observation that few areas of the park system inspire as much hard-core devotion and attachment as Turkey Mountain. Even a slight change in trail layout or park signage is greeted by a chorus of “love it!”, “hate it!”, “keep it!”, and/or “get rid of it!” We’re proud of these loyal (and vocal) park users, because we know that they LOVE Turkey Mountain. Yes, this area of River Parks has a faithful following. What is it that makes Turkey Mountain such a unique place?
Location is part of what park users love about Turkey Mountain. It’s been said that the Mountain is “a thousand miles from nowhere, and six miles from downtown.” Undoubtedly, the first visitors to Turkey Mountain felt similarly. The area was originally prospected for oil in the 1910′s and 1920′s as part of the oil boom surrounding Tulsa. In fact, original equipment and pumpjack stands from these early visitors can still be found in the park. Although the location of Turkey Mountain was incredibly convenient for oil exploration, actual deposits were scarce. By the 1930′s, Turkey Mountain began returning to its original condition of overgrown wilderness. In 1978, River Parks Authority purchased a large percentage of Turkey Mountain and was able to specially zone the land to prevent commercial development. The area was little used until the 1980′s, when a few intrepid adventurers began reconnaissance and trail-building using 2 cycle dirt bikes. Eventually, the use of motorized vehicles was prohibited by statute, which allowed for slower-moving traffic on the newly-invented “mountain bike’ to become popular. For the next 20 years, Turkey Mountain became well-known among offroad cyclists as a hidden place, perfect for fat-tire adventures because of its constantly changing terrain, smooth trails, and rustic scenery. In recent years, trailrunning has became even more popular than mountain-biking at Turkey, mainly because of the new bathroom facilities and parking lot from a Kaiser Foundation grant in 2008.
What can a first-time visitor expect at Turkey Mountain? Entering the trailhead parking lot at 68th and Elwood, guests are immediately greeted by a well-maintained 80-100 car parking lot, along with horse trailer parking. Climbing boulders for children are located to the south, along with bathrooms and trail maps to the north. The trailhead is bisected by the River Parks west bank paved trail system, which continues across the river to 96th Street to the south and downtown Tulsa to the north. However, the offroad trails are what bring most people to Turkey Mountain, and no more less than 3 of the main trails start at this trailhead. A majority of park users take the Yellow Trail, which follows midway up the side of the 804 foot “mountain” for 1.5 miles, then looping back on the top ridge. Several vista points along this trail offer views of the Arkansas River, midtown Tulsa, and downtown Tulsa. Trail terrain is typically smooth, with several more difficult areas of rocky and steep contours.
Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Map
The Future of Turkey Mountain
Due to its location and natural beauty, the Turkey Mountain area is occasionally under pressure to revise zoning statutes from commercial and real-estate developers. Thanks to continued support from the community, River Parks, and the City of Tulsa, none of these attempts have been successful to date. Thanks to the increasing usage of the area by runners, bikers, equestrians, and families, it is our hope at River Parks that the Turkey Mountain area will remain a vital, untouched area for future explorers. River Parks is currently pursuing options to improve the Turkey Mountain trail system, including trail reconstruction, larger climbing walls, and working with nearby property owners to expand the trail system. We would like to welcome you to explore this beautiful and unique area of River Parks!