With a quick five-minute drive from downtown, outdoor enthusiasts can immerse themselves in one of Tulsa’s best-kept secrets, Oxley Nature Center.
The center is located in Mohawk Park on an 800-acre plot of wild prairie and ancient trees. It offers 10 miles of walking trails, a marsh boardwalk, an observation platform overlooking a lake, nature classes, bird watching and creative art sessions based on the park’s ecology and animal habitats.
Although Oxley opened in the late 1970s, many Tulsans have yet to discover the facility and its many enriching programs — not only for long-time nature lovers, but also for families with children.
"It warms my heart to see young couples bring their kids," says Seasonal Naturalist Karen Harris. "It’s nice to know there’s another generation growing up interested in nature."
Harris, a retired teacher, was an Oxley volunteer before becoming a part-time employee.
"Every time I’m out here, I learn something new," she says.
Visitors are welcome any season, but more activities are available during the spring and summer months. Opportunities include Saturday morning walks examining botany, butterflies or birds; a Nature Babies exploration class; children’s sessions about frogs and toads; and special courses on the development and preservation of pollinator habitats.
Harris says the center hosts several bird-watching groups who regularly participate in "citizen science," a concept that empowers people with the responsibility of surveying and reporting species activity to state and national wildlife agencies. Oxley partners with entities such as the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology for the "Great Backyard Bird Count." Birders learn about the populations and habitat needs of birds they find in their own backyards.
"These citizen science counts are becoming popular because they help organizations track trends and study how ranges are changing," Harris says.
Oxley also partners with several scientific organizations to monitor monarch butterfly populations. A class on identifying and studying monarchs will be offered in July. Naturalists at the center host informational sessions on prairie restoration, mushroom identification and prescribed burns along with crafty courses on basket weaving, woven wall hangings (in August) and other traditional crafts inspired by nature.
"This is Tulsa’s nature center, a place where people can recharge and get outdoors," Harris says. "They’ll come back from a walk with their eyes lit up, excited from seeing deer, beaver lodges or pelicans."
Other regular sessions available at the center include full moon walks, night hikes and weekend tours. A minimal fee is required for the organized classes, but open exploration at the center is always free. More than 40,000 people of all ages visit each year, enriching their lives with a breath of fresh air, some Vitamin D and a little dirt on their shoes.
"Very rarely can you go so quickly from a place that’s built up in the city like downtown Tulsa to such open, wild spaces," Harris says. "We’re fortunate to be so close to an urban area. The more development we see, the more precious a place like this becomes. It’s special."
For more on Oxley Nature Center programs, visit www.oxleynaturecenter.org.