In the northeast corner of Tulsa’s sprawling Mohawk Park, beyond the playgrounds, splash pads, polo field and golf course, is set aside an 804-acre plot of land never to be developed.
This was the place a young John Oxley brought the daughter of the photographer he worked for to ride horses on the winding equestrian trails. Oxley became an oilman, an avid polo player, and in 1935 he married that girl.
When the city set aside this spot of earth as a nature preserve, Oxley donated funds to help, and it was named for his bride Mary K. Oxley. Today it is an escape from four walls, video games and fluorescent lights, with miles of hiking trails through three distinct habitats and the accompanying flora and fauna.
“It’s fresh air. You are in the middle of all these trees, and they are putting out oxygen. You just have this feeling of freedom. It kind of relieves the stress,” says director and naturalist Eddie Reese.
The Tulsa Audubon Society sketched the original master plan after the idea of a preserve was pitched to the Tulsa Parks Department in 1972. A nonprofit group of citizens formed to raise money and oversee construction. Once complete, the nature center was turned over to the city to be enjoyed by the public with the rest of Mohawk Park.
“The mission of the center is ‘inspire the wonder,’” says Reese, who has been at the center for 25 of the nature center’s 30 years.
A testament to the success of this mission is the look of wonder he describes on the faces of the thousands of children he has led on hikes through the center.
“They are used to just seeing trees or just a patch of grass,” he says. “You get them out there and you start showing them things, and it just gets amazing. They really get into it.”
Reese had a short-lived career as science teacher in his younger years before he tossed his business-casual wardrobe and classroom to be outside. He is passionate that the Oxley Nature Center be a place that gets kids off the couch and computer and outside to appreciate nature and engage in conservation.
“We want to foster in new people an appreciation of wild places. If people appreciate our wild spaces, they will want to conserve them,” says Reese. “If we don’t teach people about conservation, as voters someday they won’t care to set aside green spaces.”
If people care about what is there, they will help protect it he says.
“It seems like we spent a lot more time outdoors when we were kids. That is why you need places like Oxley Nature Center. It will be an oasis someday surrounded by urban areas,” Reese says.
Those green spaces aren’t just pretty. We need them for survival.
“We can’t survive without our green spaces. A person can live in an apartment and never see a blade of grass or touch a tree, but still depends on wild places for survival – for oxygen, pollinators for pollinating food, clean water,” Reese says.
He adds that the long-term mission of the organization is to impress this upon people by intimately engaging them in the beauty.
Spring, he contends, may be the best time to do that.
At the nature center it is a new season of life. New flowers and redbuds are blooming. Reese says deer and raccoon are often spotted with their young.
Spring also brings back birds from their winter vacation in the south, and butterflies begin making appearances.
Oxley Nature Center contributes a North American census count of butterflies and ranks among the top 20 for butterfly diversity nearly every year.
Birding is also a very rewarding activity at the center. Due to the three distinct habitats – prairie, woodland and wetland – there is a great variety. Reese says they are particularly musical in the spring as they mark out territories.
Nearly every week the center has changed as the season goes on. For a unique way to see the nature center, full moon walks are offered.In a culture filled with chords, wires and outlets, the green land of Oxley Nature Center is a necessary escape.
For decades the center has given individuals the opportunity to glance at the land of Oklahoma in its purest form.
You can find most of the species of northeast Oklahoma in Oxley Nature Center’s 804 acres of wildlife sanctuary and 11 miles of hiking trails. The center has a number of different resources available to the public.
Inside the main facility there are hands-on exhibits, informational sites and wildlife viewing areas.
Individuals from all throughout Oklahoma also come to Mohawk Park to hike through Oxley’s various trails. The hiking trails are:
• Red Fox Trail (0.3 mile)
• Green Dragon Trail (0.5 mile)
• Blue Heron Trail (0.3 mile)
• Prairie Trail (0.4 mile)
• Blackbird Marsh (0.7 mile from building)
• Wildlife Study Area Trail (0.6 mile)
• Flowline Trail (0.45 mile)
• Beaver Lodge Trail (1.0 mile)
• North Woods Loop (1.3 mile)
• Sierra Club Trail (0.7 mile)
In addition to this, the Oxley Nature Center offers a slew of different fun environmental activities to the general public. Some of the programs include:
• Saturday Morning Bird Walk
• Family Adventures
• Butterfly Walks
• Earth Science Walks
• Botany Walks 10:30 a.m. on the 4th Saturday of each month
• Full Moon Walk Programs
• Night Walks
• Weekend Tours
The range of the nature center’s effectiveness has been limited due to some of the recent city of Tulsa budget cuts. Still, the center has been thriving and growing just as the plants, animals and organism in the environment that encompasses it do the same.