Billions of words in millions of books – and the schoolchildren who read the books – provide the very magic that grows leaves on The Reading Tree.
A majestic cottonwood tree in an enchanted 100 acres called Gathering Place, The Reading Tree is the heart of a park blending nature with an urban setting and brimming with adventures.
There will be boats to paddle, a zipline to conquer, misty mountain water features, winding nature trails, a fairyland, a skate park, a pirate ship and two land bridges over Riverside Drive.
All of this will be unveiled on the eastern bank of the Arkansas River, where The Reading Tree resides.
“Plans are on track for the park to open this summer,” says Amanda Murphy, vice president of marketing for Gathering Place and Guthrie Green.
Some Tulsa County students have already taken field trips to The Reading Tree and participated in a reading challenge by logging the books they read online (tusareadingtree.org). With each book, another leaf appears, with nearly one million so far and a goal to double that number.
Kirsten Hein, vice president of programming for Gathering Place, says the reading challenge is for kindergarteners through third graders. It is augmented by The Reading Tree’s magical story (told via animation) and hosted by a local fourth grader in an engaging, all-ages video, highlighted on the website.
“The Reading Tree is already a celebrity, and it’s our first real program, even before the park has opened,” Murphy says. “Since last summer, we’ve worked with the library system and public schools in Tulsa County to provide curriculum and activities centered around The Tree. The website is already a great resource for educators and parents to promote reading in our area and help increase test scores. It’s not too late to join the reading challenge, and so many kids are working hard to read many books in order for the tree to grow all of its leaves.”
Community partnership with the Tulsa City-County Library in the form of a mobile library will be a park feature that allows visitors to check out books that they can return to any TCCL branch.
Excitement builds as plans for events and educational activities progress in tandem with what Hein describes as an active volunteer program increasing in members daily.
Once Gathering Place opens, many will begin experiencing the park with the Williams Lodge, which, Hein says, “is the wide open arms of the park giving a hug.”
There are many ways to enter the park, but the lodge will be the main entrance, easily accessible and the place to get information.
“Hanging out is easy with eclectic, movable outdoor furniture in this meet-up spot with views into Chapman Adventure Playground,” Hein says. “You’ll enjoy the three-story fireplace and, in all seasons, the incredible views.”
She adds that the volunteer program has different levels of involvement, ranging from single, one-time events to ongoing opportunities where interests and skills of the volunteer are matched to park needs. Eventual offerings such as camps and classes require strategic planning, so that everyone who wants to participate may do so. Highlights on the horizon include concerts by in-state artists and nationally recognized performers, festivals and cultural events.
“So many amazing things are ahead and much of it will be a surprise to the public,” Murphy says. “We are working on a website to launch leading up to opening day with a calendar of events and all the information and updates needed for people to choose what appeals to them. We want to be sure that the people of Tulsa and Oklahoma have the first chance to visit Gathering Place.”
A project of George Kaiser Family Foundation, Gathering Place is funded by a mix of corporate and philanthropic organizations and is the largest private gift to a public park in U.S. history. The first phase of the park contains 66.5 acres of an eventual 100-acre project.
Park director Tony Moore says Gathering Place is one example of how the state of Oklahoma has “a lot of great momentum and energy in its transformation.”
“I really like the phrase that ‘Oklahoma is no longer a fly-over state.’ From an outsider, who recently moved to the state, in many instances Oklahoma, to me, seems like the best kept secret of the Midwest,” Moore says. “There is just so much potential wrapped in the beauty in the state’s natural assets, the hospitality of its people and, last but definitely not least, in the generosity of its philanthropic community.”