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Tulsa wilderness area in danger from outlet mall

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A trail in the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area highlights the park's beauty.
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TULSA, Okla. - Many years ago, Turkey Mountain in Tulsa was a rundown hillside park with a reputation for drug use and sexual activity that kept many people from exploring its unique natural elements. However, after years of renovation, upkeep and maintenance, the Turkey Mountain Wilderness Area is a stellar park with much to offer the city’s residents.

However, this landscape is in danger of being altered by a plan to create an outlet mall on the edge of the wilderness area.

According to the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, “Overall, visits to the area have increased by an estimated 1000% in the last 10 years, due primarily to the construction of multiple trailhead improvements funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation.” The TUWC, in addition to many concerned Tulsa citizens, is working hard to make it known that the proposed outlet mall is unwanted.

In 2014, Simon Outlet Malls bought 50 acres adjacent to Turkey Mountain for the purpose of building an 800,000 square-foot outlet mall. Many believe that this adjacent development will have a huge negative impact on the wilderness area, which is run by the River Parks Authority, under the jurisdiction of a city/county trust.

Colin Tawney, who is with the TUWC, said that when he met with representatives of the Simon Property Group, he found that the group had not come up with a plan for the traffic that would impact the 71st St. and Highway 75 area, nor did they have sufficient plans for water drainage.

While the TUWC is not opposed to outlet malls in general, it does feel that the plans for the mall at Turkey Mountain are misguided. Tawney told the Tulsa World, “I don’t fathom any way possible you can call it low impact. Malls and wilderness—they aren’t mutually compatible.”

The Turkey Mountain Wilderness Area, whose entrance is at 68th and Elwood, is an area with steep hillsides, climbing vegetation, rocks, ponds, gullies and many varieties of flora and fauna. Runners, bikers, equestrians, hikers and general park visitors find a number of things to see and do there.

Concerns about this outlet mall are coupled with the fact that Horizon Group Properties plans to open a 90-store outlet mall at 129th E. Ave. and Interstate 44, and the Cherokee Nation is planning to build an outlet shopping area next to its Hard Rock Casino in Catoosa.

Does Tulsa really need another outlet mall? Especially one that could greatly impact what is considered one of the best urban wilderness areas in the country?

Ken Childress, who writes a blog called Trail Zombie, noted, “Putting this mall next door to an existing wild area, as well as paving 60 acres of wild area, is devastating to this wilderness.”

He added, “This mall will bring with it the worst traffic problems the city has ever seen. Already, thousands of commuters bypass Tulsa Hills and speed down 61st Street and Elwood. Throw in this outlet mall and the two-lane bridge over highway 75, and this will be a major bottle-neck. This is a very sensitive issue to me, as I live in the neighborhood just west of the Turkey Mountain parking lot, and have to deal with traffic that has tripled since Tulsa Hills was built.”

Another issue, one that has not even been brought up in our free market system, is the nature of an outlet mall itself. It is generally seen as a place where people can get fantastic bargains. But do they really?

Writer Richard Laermer, who has studied marketing trends, said of the outlet mall prices, “Nobody's ever doing you a favor, least of all designers.” He also said that the outlet stores are his "favorite consumer scam. Outlets are just a big way for stores to get rid of old merchandise, and it's rarely a bargain at that."

Bob Doucette, a Tulsa resident who writes for the blog Proactive Outside, attended the planning meeting on Feb. 19, with the Simon Group and the Tulsa Area Planning Commission. Doucette wrote on his blog that the Simon group offered limited or no plans for public safety issues, trash, parking and more.

Doucette noted, “Simon claims its retaining walls will be constructed of wood. At some point, the fill area to be contained by these retaining walls will be 70 feet high. Though terraced in 10- to 15-foot sections, this bears more scrutiny.”

For ongoing details about this issue, you can visit the TUWC website at Two information sessions and hikes on Feb. 28 and Mar. 28 are scheduled for people to get familiar with the wilderness area. Sign up for the hike at the organization’s website.

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Shaun Perkins

Shaun Perkins is a writer, teacher and poet and now a contributing writer for Red Dirt Report....

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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