Gathering Place A-to-Z
The ins and outs of the iconic Tulsa park opening Sept. 8
Illustrations by Georgia Brooks
is for artists
Walk around the Gathering Place acreage and one is surrounded by art, whether natural or man-made. So it’s no surprise the park is planning art installations and programming into its lineup of activities.
“Alongside other programming initiatives, installations in the park by many talented local and internationally recognized artists will keep visitors excited to see what’s next,” says Kirsten Hein, vice president of programming. Art will be infused into storytimes, discussions, tours and classes.
In the park’s first 100 days, artist talks will give visitors a chance to meet the park’s artists. Volunteer docents will be able to help guests interpret the art
already on display, including the Boathouse’s “Cabinet of Wonder,” created by Mark Dion. This installation is an arrangement of rare and curious items.
Also in the Boathouse is a large, interactive glass and steel Edison Cloud chandelier that will respond to user movement. The piece was designed by Jen Lewin, a new media sculptor who specializes in large-scale installations.
Park programmers will have regular calls for artists and plan to offer creative classes for all ages. But, art making isn’t only for the park’s interior spaces. Art will be encountered in unexpected places at Gathering Place, and the park welcomes creatives who want to come and sketch and create on site.
is for blue
Located on the southwest side of the park, five sports courts don a blue hue. Basketball, volleyball, street soccer and street hockey can be played on the courts into the evening, as each is equipped with lighting.
Courts are first-come, first-serve. Limited sports equipment is available at no cost.
is for cottonwood
The Reading Tree is the oldest and largest cottonwood in the park and is nestled in the 5-acre Adventure Playground. Its canopy provides shade and the perfect spot for an afternoon of reading. Storytimes and other kids’ programming will be held under the tree.
The tree inspired the Reading Tree Challenge, a goal for Tulsa County children to read 2 million books by Sept. 8.
is for dining options
Guests to Gathering Place won’t go hungry. Multiple food options exist — from gelato and coffee to grab-and-go sandwiches and linen tablecloth dining. Near the playground area, the Lodge has a walk-up counter with $5 food choices and a large patio dining and play area. Redbud Cafe is located inside the Lodge, and features sweet treats made in-house daily. The Boathouse offers casual and upscale family dining options, as well as a bar with views of downtown at the signature restaurant, Vista at the Boathouse.
Throughout the park, benches and tables provide plenty of picnic spots, as well as numerous places to spread a blanket.
is for entry points
There are 21 points of entry to Gathering Place, which helps disperse traffic in and around the park.
The new John Williams Way gives those coming from Riverside Drive direct access to the park’s 530 permanent parking spaces, as well as the convenient drop-off site at the Lodge. Walkers, runners and cyclists can use the new walkways lining the east side of Riverside Drive or take the updated RiverParks trail. The Midland Valley Trail connects pedestrians from the Maple Ridge and downtown neighborhoods. East 31st Street from Riverside Drive to South Peoria Avenue has been updated with two bike lanes, new sidewalks and a resurfaced single lane in either direction.
is for family first
Every detail of Gathering Place was determined with families in mind.
Kid-friendly food is plentiful. Family restrooms, as well as baby-changing stations in both male and female restrooms, are available throughout the park.
For children with sensory issues, an air-conditioned quiet room is conveniently located near the playground restrooms.
Mothers have two private, air-conditioned spots to feed babies: the Adventure Playground family room, and a dedicated space inside the Lodge.
is for green
From its inception, Gathering Place was designed with sustainability in mind. Its eco-friendly design and “symbiotic landscape aesthetic” make man-made structures seem like natural extensions of the landscape.
Along with preserving as many existing trees as possible, crews planted more than 5,800 evergreen and deciduous trees.
Peggy’s Pond re-circulates its water through nearby wetlands as shoreline plants and gardens help clean the water runoff. Buildings, including the Lodge and Boathouse, are heated and cooled through geothermal wells.
is for hidden gems
With more than 66.5 acres to discover in Phase 1, there is always something new to see and do at Gathering Place.
The medieval kitchen is an unexpected playspace for kids traversing the wooden towers of the Adventure Playground’s Spiral Connector and Towers.
Architectural gems are hidden throughout the park. An unassuming white ceiling? Not at the Lodge, where an undulating ceiling surface is made from a mix of cedar and maple. The woods are artistically designed to complement the intricate veining pattern of the sandstone floor.
Murals adorn the walls of the restrooms in Adventure Playground. These “hidden” art installations were designed by local artists and highlight park elements.
Each season will bring new things to see at the park: flowers in the spring, wildlife along the riverbank in the summer, and fall color exploding through the thousands of trees and native plantings.
is for indoor spaces
The two-story Lodge serves as the park’s main welcome center. It sits almost exactly on the site of the former Blair Mansion, the solitary home removed in the process of the park’s development. The Lodge serves as a meeting center, with multiple spaces on both floors where folks can gather. A massive indoor fireplace will entice guests in the winter. Peggy’s Pond is visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows that line the sandstone building.
Located on the southeast corner of the park is the Boathouse. The architecturally stimulating structure serves as another gathering and dining center for the park, as well as the port for all rented watercraft.
Both buildings will host numerous educational programs and provide guests with restrooms and facilities.
is for jumps
Gathering Place offers plenty of ways to satisfy the adrenaline junkie in all of us. Two of the most extreme are the BMX pump track and the skate park, both located on the southwest side of the park.
Designed by California Skate Parks, this skateboarder’s paradise is unique to Tulsa and has two swimming pool-sized bowls. The BMX track is the first in Tulsa proper — a welcome addition for fans of this popular sport. Both areas are fenced to protect athletes and other park visitors, but safe seating areas above the skate park are perfect for spectating.
is for kayak and paddleboat rental
Few places in Tulsa offer opportunities to get out on the water in one’s pick of vessel. At the Boathouse, visitors can rent kayaks or paddleboats for use on Peggy’s Pond. Rentals operate on a first-come, first-serve basis and are free, except at to-be-determined peak times. Life jackets are required and are provided free of charge.
is for lighting
If you’ve seen aerial photographs or video of Gathering Place, you might have noticed telephone poles near the sports courts and skate park. These are posts for lights that allow visitors to enjoy the attractions safely after dark. Efficient LED lights are automated throughout the park.
Elsewhere, lighting is incorporated into the landscape. Of course, you can’t miss the well-lit tunnels over Riverside Drive.
is for mazes
Cool off in the water maze at Mist Mountain, said to be George Kaiser’s favorite park feature. Water shoots up from the ground in various patterns, tempting feet to step inside and follow the dry ground before the maze changes its synchronized pattern.
In the Sensory Garden, a mirror maze invites children to see themselves from a new angle and to experience the infinite repeating pattern of mirrors.
is for nature
For a park in the middle of a city, Gathering Place has a surprisingly organic feel. Park staff say that’s because elements were designed to complement, not compete with, the landscape.
The Nature Trail leads visitors from the skate area down to the river’s edge for an up-close look at the water and visiting birds.
More than 1.2 million plants and 5,800 trees were planted throughout the park, with many located in the Wetland Gardens and surrounding Peggy’s Pond.
is for open seating
There is no “saving seats” at Gathering Place. With the park’s spirit of inclusivity, visitors can neither make space reservations in the Lodge or Boathouse, nor reserve park equipment in advance. Its mission is to be a “park for everyone,” and this approach can be seen from its free entry to its wheelchair-accessible playground equipment.
is for play
Every feature of the Adventure Playground is suited for discoverable and exploratory play, and specific areas were built for different age groups. For example, toddlers can navigate Volcanoville, a padded area with low-level climbing elements and sensory stimulation. As kids get older, wooden play towers as tall as 60 feet have a medieval theme with surprises as they climb each level.
Play opportunities go beyond the playground, from colorful climbing elements near the skatepark to slides built into the Lodge patio — a feature that might buy multi-tasking parents a few extra minutes to finish their meals while keeping a close eye on their kids.
is for questions
Feeling overwhelmed with the sheer size of the park and its many elements and activities? Gathering Place has developed its own free mobile app to make navigating the park easy for visitors with smartphones. The app includes optional push notifications that tell the user when they are near a dining opportunity. And visitors can always find the latest on park initiatives, programming and special events at gatheringplace.org.
Of course, technology is no substitution for real people. That’s why Gathering Place will employ more than 200 park attendants to be stationed at specific attractions or to canvas the park grounds. Their role is to keep visitors safe and well-informed.
is for recline and relax
The topography of Gathering Place is such that, at many points in the park, one cannot hear road noise or even see the Tulsa skyline — making many spots perfect for contemplation.
In warmer weather, enjoy riverfront views on a bench along the Midland Trail; sunbathe in the chairs of the Landing, a deck on the east side of Peggy’s Pond; or take in the scenic views on the Boathouse’s community deck — the park’s highest point.
In the winter months, the Lodge’s eclectic indoor seating areas around its multi-story fireplace are comfortable spots to read with hot coffee in hand.
is for sandstone
Approximately 20,000 tons of Oklahoma sandstone, sourced from McCurtain County, were utilized in constructing many elements of the park, from the Four Seasons Garden to the Lodge and beyond.
is for trails
Take a hike! There’s more than one way to get from Point A to Point B in this expansive park. With the completion of Phase 1, Gathering Place is now officially part of the RiverParks trail system, and the Midland Valley Trail, too.
is for underground
The $465 million Gathering Place has transformed the site in all directions. Riverside Drive now goes underneath a pair of land bridges, creating surprisingly cheerful underground tunnels.
A slide — affectionately dubbed the Rabbit Hole — plunges riders underground before spitting them out in the playground. Even the main offices of Gathering Place are located underground, just underneath the Four Seasons Garden.
is for Van Valkenburgh
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates is the New York-based firm that designed the park. It also will design the Gateway, a new pedestrian bridge across the Arkansas River, which will replace the old unsalvageable one that previously let Tulsans go from bank-to-bank on foot. The bridge will feature an unprecedented steel plate fabrication system. It will have a variety of shading structures and sitting areas, lighting features and separate lanes for bicyclists and pedestrians. And of course, it will seamlessly integrate with the Gathering Place. Construction is expected to take up to 22 months after the existing bridge is demolished and the new one designed.
is for water features
Water is a central element of Gathering Place, playing on its proximity to the Arkansas River. Peggy’s Pond allows for kayaking and other water recreation, and the Wetland Gardens provide close encounters with watery wildlife. As they traverse Mist Mountain, visitors are delighted by jets of water jumping overhead, mist areas, soaring water cannons and interactive fountains.
is for xylophone
The Sensory Garden within the Adventure Playground engages children in multi-sensory play. The 3-by-4 foot xylophone in the heart of the space begs children to experiment, building an understanding of music theory along the way.
is for young at heart
Nobody is too old or too young for the Gathering Place. For the young, specially designed play areas challenge developing minds and bodies. Antsy teens can burn off some energy in the skate area and sports courts. Responsible adults can enjoy kayaking or running. Those in their golden years can sit back on an Adirondack chair or park bench — or perhaps rediscover their inner child when their grandkids demand they take a slide, too.
is for zoom
Slide Vale and Adventure Playground’s multiple slides wow kids with speed. For some speedy fun closer to the ground, kids can try the zipline in the Sensory Garden. If you’ve really got a need for speed, take your wheels to the BMX pump track or the skate park, both located on the southwest side of the park. Or, challenge your friends to a race along one of the park’s trails.
But... what about parking?
One of the most frequent questions Gathering Place officials are asked is about parking.
In the park’s opening days, there will be on-site parking as well as designated shuttle sites across the city. Officials encourage visitors to walk, bike or use public transit if they live nearby.
For more information on parking, check out the insert in this issue of the magazine, or visit gatheringplace.org.