September 20th, 2015 marks a new beginning for an ambitious project years in the making. On this date, the ground-breaking ceremony for Tulsa’s much-anticipated Gathering Place will occur and construction will officially begin.
First unveiled in June 2013, the Gathering Place Project is an effort to construct an extensive public park along the Arkansas River.
The effort is spearheaded by George Kaiser and the Kaiser Foundation, who have generously donated $200 million to the project including $50 million in land amounting to roughly 80 acres. This is the largest gift to a public park in United States history.
Additionally, the Kaiser Foundation and River Parks hope to reach $150 million in private donations, of which they have already raised $116 million.
The project will be completed in phases. Phase 1 involves construction spanning the River Parks trail from approximately 27th to 34th Street, as well as land along the Midland Valley Trail and the Blair mansion site. Phase 2 and 3 are expected to bring the park’s total boundaries to an impressive 100 acres.
But wait, you say. What’s so special about this park? What does it have that other Tulsa parks don’t?
The Gathering Place is unprecedented not only because of its size and its origins, but also because of its whimsical and innovative design. One of the defining features of the Gathering Place is its network of interactive playground features. Plans include playgrounds designed to look like towers, a play area specifically for small children, cliff-like rock features, and (my personal favorite) a Water Labyrinth where fountains will form ever-changing walls of water for kids to run through and explore.
Features for visitors of any age include wetland gardens and the Sky Garden (rumored to have a crystal-clear view of the Oklahoma sky), as well as a Great Lawn, Rocky Beach, and a lodge where visitors can rent athletic equipment or games such as Frisbee.
The cherry on top of this lovely public park sundae is the inclusion of a trail system along the Arkansas River, allowing visitors to walk, run, bike or explore trails with a gorgeous river view.
In an interview with the Tulsa World, leading contributors to the project seemed optimistic about its success and its positive impact on the Tulsa community.
River Parks Authority Board Chairman assured that the park “will make a huge and wonderful difference to the city of Tulsa,” while River Parks Executive Director Matt Meyer calls the Gathering Place a “game-changer.”
Not only will the addition of more green space provide a secluded natural area for people to relax and gather (as the park’s name implies) amongst the hustle and bustle of Tulsa’s urban environment, the park also has ample room for exercise, exploration, and interactive play for kids of all ages.
While ground may be broken in a few short weeks, construction likely won’t be completed until late 2017. However, as a fervent supporter of all things outdoorsy, I am thrilled to see what the Gathering Place has to offer the city of Tulsa in coming years- and I’m sure countless Tulsans are as well.