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What a Releaf

The expansive and secluded 800-acre Oxley Nature Center, with its miles of forged trails, provides an opportunity to reconnect with the world and its creatures.

Rob Harmon
Sarah Eliza Roberts
March 28, 2020

Tulsans work hard. We stay busy with jobs, family, and causes important to us. We know how to have a good time, too. We entertain ourselves with food, theater, film, museums, and everything else. If there’s something that matters to us, we’ve got a serious plan to do it, in both work and play. But it can be stressful, all this fun and hard work we enjoy. So, we escape to social media and other technology, which many times brings on more stress, with trolls, cyberbullies, and political arguments with strangers. We find ourselves desperately needing a digital detox.

One thing we don’t do enough, studies say, falls somewhere between work and play. Call it education, introspection, or restoration. Call it what you will. Whichever way you describe it, it’s something most of us forget about. When’s the last time you got lost in the woods, in a good way? When’s the last time you took a hike through a thick grove of trees and listened or observed, connecting yourself to nature?

Tulsa’s Mary K. Oxley Nature Center, inside Mohawk Park, is a tremendous place to escape the work and fun we keep ourselves so busy with. The expansive and secluded 800-acre nature center, with its miles of forged trails, provides an opportunity to reconnect with the world and its creatures. Busy beavers carve trees into pencils. Birds sing songs as they soar above. Deer, armadillo, and possum roam the preserve, living life in the natural way they do. The park is beautiful, peaceful, and calm, with none of the cares of the daily grind we’re used to. Just one step into Oxley is almost a complete battery charge for the soul.

The guides in the park’s interpretive center, many of whom are experienced volunteers and seasoned naturalists, understand that we all haven’t exactly been in touch with the great outdoors and might need a little guidance. They’re the people to talk to first, before exploring the nature center on your own. With a wealth of knowledge and insight, these people know how to help make the experience at Oxley all the richer.

Vinnie Robinson, a 16-year veteran naturalist at Oxley, loves talking about all the activities available in the serene nature center. “The boardwalk across the marsh is a favorite for so many,” Robinson says.

After the 2019 flood, the boardwalk that reaches across Blackbird Marsh needed attention but has now been fixed in areas affected. Taking a slow, deliberate walk along the 600-foot boardwalk is a real treat for anyone wanting to investigate the aquatic wildlife of the marsh. The semiaquatic mink, the bushy-tailed raccoon, the burly bullfrogs, and various species and subspecies of turtles make their home here and can be seen or heard by anyone on the serious lookout.

The full moon walk is another adventure the park’s naturalists enjoy taking visitors on. Small, guided groups can explore the acreage after dark, without the use of flashlights (even the ones on our phones), learning to use senses other than sight.

“Our eyes learn how to adjust in a short period,” says Robinson. “Every full moon, we’ll take you through the woods, across the prairie, and across the boardwalk. It’s really neat if it’s a cloudless night.”

For those joining the full moon walk, a unique experience is bound to be had every time. The nocturnal creatures are in more abundance, including coyote packs, which can be heard yipping and crying as they communicate with each other in their established territories. The sound can be quite eerie, but don’t worry. Naturalists say they are typically further away and in fewer numbers than their howling portrays.

For anyone who has never visited the nature center, Robinson says, the preserve is unlike the rest of Mohawk Park, where the majority of visitors are frequenting the zoo and picnic shelters.

“Turkey Mountain, for example, has trails,” Robinson explains, “but they also have mountain bikers and trail runners. We don’t have that. It’s geared toward a stroll, where people can take in the woods and the wildlife. They’re finding out it does wonders to be out in nature.”

Recent studies from the University of California-Berkeley show that spending time in nature can make us kinder, happier, and more creative. First of all, it sneakily reduces stress. Hiking through the woods for an hour provides exercise, stimulation, and stress-relief a treadmill can’t offer. Secondly, time spent in nature increases positivity and self-efficacy. Lastly, the study showed that the idea of “attention restoration” is relevant to our times in the great outdoors. While living in a world where technology is everywhere, constantly tugging at us for attention, a short visit to nature helps us realign our brains, allowing us to “restore” our ability to handle the everyday bombardment of our techno world.

Visit the nature center’s website, and you’ll see how many other activities they have, including butterfly walks, weekend tours, birdwatching events, nature sketching groups, and much more. But don’t just visit them on the internet. That would defeat the purpose. Take a short drive to Mohawk Park, the city’s largest park north of the Tulsa International Airport. Follow the signs past the zoo to the northernmost area, and you’ll find the Oxley Nature Center, one of Green Country’s most beautiful nature preserves. Take time for a digital detox, and maybe consider asking how to become a volunteer. Of course, work and all your other responsibilities will be there when you get back, but you’ll be refreshed, rejuvenated, and more ready to work and play hard than before.  

Oxley Nature Center
6700 Mohawk Blvd. | Tulsa