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Redbud Valley Nature Preserve—–Dreams Do Come True!

On a drive 12 miles northeast of downtown Tulsa, a dusty road drops from the flat grasslands into a cool, lush haven of unusual  flora, fauna, and geology reminiscent of the Ozarks. Here, Dr. Harriet Barclay of the University of Tulsa,  took her students to study the unique environment of a living classroom known as Redbud Valley.  Over those 40 years of exploration, the fragility of the valley became increasingly apparent to Dr. Barclay. Bordered by the Port of Catoosa, the Dewey Rocky Mountain Portland Cement Company, and threatened by progress from increasing commercial and industrial development,  Redbud Valley was in danger of being swallowed up by conflicting outside forces.  A true wilderness treasure was in danger of disappearing.

Dr. Barclay took action. In the summer of 1969 she approached the Nature Conservancy in Washington D.C. with a request for help in preserving the 85-acre wilderness tract. The conservancy agreed, purchasing the  land for $80,000. They then leased it to TU for $1 a year, with the stipulation that the debt must be paid off with funds raised locally. Redbud Valley Nature Preserve became the first Nature Conservancy project in Oklahoma.

A 13-member project committee, consisting of representatives of the life sciences department at TU and other nature organizations, began raising funds to pay back the loan. Many people and organizations stepped forward to help. The project  committee had raised $35,000 toward paying off the debt when they appealed to The Tulsa Tribune for help.

That was 34 years ago.  On April 5, 1972, the newspaper began writing a series of articles on Redbud Valley Nature Preserve.  Environment writer, Jim Sellers, set forth a challenge, enlisting the aid of the citizens of Tulsa and the surrounding communities.  The Tulsa Tribune set a fund-raising goal of $60,000; $45,000 to pay off the debt, and $15,000 for improvements such as signage and parking; with a deadline of May 20, 1972.

In the days and weeks that followed, the Tribune introduced its readers to the wonders of Redbud Valley, and the importance of its preservation. With the support of the project committee and others, tours of the site, and lectures on its uniqueness, helped the public understand what was being asked of it.  Donations started to flow in on a daily basis.

One donor wrote ”Granted, $1 as one raindrop, doesn’t make much of a splash    itself; but if each ecology-minded person would mail a $1 contribution today, Redbud Valley would belong to Tulsa tomorrow.”  And it wasn’t just Tulsa that would benefit.  Donations were coming from all over Oklahoma and from other states.  Contributions arrived day by day, dollar by dollar, paying off the $45,000 debt, reducing the principal and interest on the note, one small amount at a time. All contributions were acknowledged daily in the Tribune.

Leading with donations were the young people of the area; schools, university students, Girl Scout troops,  4-H clubs, and Campfire Girls. On April 15, pupils at Hoover Elementary School organized an on-going fund-raising competition. Their original goal was to raise $100, which they accomplished in three days by running errands, selling pop bottles, and knocking on doors. They quickly revised their goal to $1000, and amazed and delighted their parents, teachers, Principal Walker Dobson, and The Tulsa Tribune  with their total donation of $1,156.46!

Holland Hall Middle School students produced a 50-page publication called Rebus (Latin for riddle or puzzle) filled with drawings, writings, mazes, and thoughts centered around nature, pollution, and conservation. The  magazine was made available for 25 cents, with all proceeds going to Redbud Valley. 

Numerous garden clubs were among the most consistent contributors. Nature lovers, grandparents, anonymous  individuals, nursing home residents, the Kiwanis Club, Rock and Mineral Society, Inc., honorariums and memorials to various individuals; all these gifts helped the fund grow.  By April 28, the fund reached over $10,000. The project committee sent out letters to large businesses encouraging them to join the project. PSO   was the first large firm to make a donation, followed by  others.

On May 16, a little over $19,909 had been raised, approximately one third of the goal that had been set for the May 20 deadline.  The Tulsa Tribune acknowledged that if the goal was not met, they would continue to accept  donations through the summer and then conduct a follow-up drive in the autumn. $25,000 became the temporary goal for the “spring effort”.  On the 22 of May, University of Tulsa President J. Paschal Twyman presented a gift from TU of $10,000, saying ”The preservation of this ideal laboratory would contribute significantly to the educational experience of countless numbers of university students in the years to come.”  Donations now totaled $34,391.09.  Apparently, the “spring fund drive” wasn’t over yet!

“Readers Determined” said the headline in The Tulsa Tribune on the 24 of June.  Five days earlier the editors felt certain they would have to extend the campaign to pay off the mortgage into the autumn. With another flood of checks arriving daily, they were no longer so sure.  Contributions, large and small, continued to pour in.  By June 6,  the Tribune reports, “Our readers have pushed the drive to save Redbud Valley Nature Preserve past the $40,000 mark!”

By July 1, funds totaled $43,278.45, and by March 20, 1973 over $49,000 had been raised. The loan from The Nature Conservancy had been paid in full, as stipulated, by funds raised locally.  By April 25, 1974, readers had responded to the fund-drive sponsored by The Tulsa Tribune by contributing $50,000!  An amazing thing had  happened.  All kinds of people drew together, gave what they could, and made the dream a reality everyone could own. Redbud Valley had been preserved, not only for the present but also for future generations. 

This wild preserve is still a safe respite and refuge not only for the unusual flora, fauna, and geology; and the   university students who knew it through field trips; but also for all people who wish to enjoy its beauty and study its unique features.  You can still drive down that two-lane road where you drop suddenly into that magical world. Managed by the City of Tulsa’s Oxley Nature Center since 1990, Redbud Valley Nature Preserve is open   Wednesdays through Sundays.  In 1992 the City of Tulsa purchased  additional acreage, increasing the Preserve to nearly 200 acres.  An interpretive building near the trail-head contains  exhibits and is staffed from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  Occasional programs are offered here, from primitive skills classes to wildflower or geology  walks.  The best thing though, the simple thing, is to take a walk, clear your head, and heighten your senses.

Along the steep hillside, cool and moist, you’ll find Sugar Maples, Blue Ash, and Dutchmen’s Britches.  Above Bird Creek, towering limestone bluffs and caves, with seeps and springs, provide a microhabitat for bats, a variety of ferns, and columbine. Fossils of crinoids, brachiopods, and horn coral from a long ago inland sea, may lay visible to the sharp eye, partially buried in the rocks beneath your feet.

Climbing higher still, you arrive on the top of the limestone where a shallow layer of soil hosts Smoke Tree, mixed-oak woodlands, various grasses and forbs, two species of cactus, and yucca.  Beneath the rocks, tarantulas share their homes with Great Plains Narrow-Mouth Toads, and scorpions hide during the day.  Several species of snakes and lizards live here, as do over 200 species of birds, and a variety of mammals. The narrow trail through this preserve hints of the wildlife that thrives here and uses the same trail, leaving scat, tracks, and food remnants.  These residents are the only ones who can wander off the trail, who can feed on the plants,  who can use the resource.  We visitors can collect only photos, drawings, knowledge, and memories.  But how very lucky that we can, due to the foresight of those individuals 34 years ago.  A small thing, a great thing...come experience it for yourself.  And tread lightly, gratefully, on this small piece of wilderness.  It’s your place too.


Numerous references for this piece are from The Tulsa Tribune articles written during the fund drive in 1972.