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'Hard to imagine Tulsa without it': River Parks turns 50

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Posted at 6:22 AM, Jun 11, 2024

TULSA, Okla. — The Tulsa River Parks Authority is marking 50 years of giving Green Country its urban green spaces.

The ability to go for a jog or stroll along a gorgeous riverfront without busy intersections stopping pedestrians is one not to take for granted. From a marathon’s worth of paved paths and playgrounds along the Arkansas River to the rocky trails of Turkey Mountain, the River Parks Authority oversees a lot of Tulsa’s natural landmarks.

As for what Tulsa would even look like without the River Parks Authority, Executive Director Jeff Edwards told 2 News, “Imagine no Gathering Place. Imagine no Iron Man, previously here, you know, over the last three years. It’s hard to imagine."

"Would it be developed?" Edwards continued. "Would we see high-rise buildings all along the Arkansas River, where you couldn’t really see the greatest natural resource, here, in the river itself?”

Since 1974, the Authority has created 26 miles of asphalt-paved trails, playgrounds, fountains, statues, and other recreational features along the riverbank. It also spearheaded the growth of Turkey Mountain’s 40 miles of trails, mountain bike amenities, and urban wildlife habitation.

Edwards joined local leaders like Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith to mark the milestone anniversary June 11 in a ceremony at 41st Street and Riverside Drive.

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"There's unprecedented collaboration between the city, the county, (and) the private sector to make the most of River Parks and the Arkansas River corridor in our city," Mayor Bynum remarked, later boasting of the Riverside Drive parks' contributions to limiting storm damage, specifically in 2019.

"All of those homes, those businesses, they were protected from the floodwaters because River Parks was here to handle the floodwaters as they came through," Bynum said. "That's not an accident. That's by design."

The RPA is a public trust authority, and many of its projects are funded through public-private partnerships. Edwards told 2 News the authority is a roughly $190 million park investment for Tulsa, with half of that coming from private funds.

Here's a look back at the early days of TRPA, courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society:

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