Jack McMahan overcame the physical, emotional and financial trauma of the bicycling accident that paralyzed him.
His recovery behind him, McMahan went to Martin Nature Park in northwest Oklahoma City, determined to reconnect with the outdoor activities he loves and that sustain him.
What he found gave him pause.
Using a wheelchair, he couldn't explore the park he had enjoyed with his children when they were growing up.
The city council on Tuesday agreed to let McMahan's nonprofit organization develop plans for more than $1 million in privately funded improvements at the park.
Once detailed plans are in place, the council is to give final approval.
Construction could begin in the fall.
The project is intended to open some previously inaccessible parts of the 144-acre park to visitors, particularly children, who are blind, deaf or unable to walk.
A trail will be surfaced, a boardwalk will extend over the pond, and educational aids will help all visitors, including those who can't see or hear, gain a better sense of their surroundings.
‘Available to everyone'
It's a personal quest with a public benefit for McMahan, a New Englander who attended Middlebury College in Vermont and served in the Army in Europe before a career as an insurance executive.
“I had to find a way back into the woods,” McMahan, 65, said.
An avid skier, bicyclist, fly fisherman and hiker, he injured his spinal cord in a bicycle accident at Lake Hefner nine years ago. He fell and hit his forehead when he pulled his bike off a trail to answer his cellphone.
After he'd recovered sufficiently from his injury, he said he found himself missing the wilderness.
McMahan said his wife, Susie, came up with the name for Wilderness Matters, a play on words that captures the business and emotional side of preserving the outdoors for more than just the able-bodied.
McMahan has found common ground with park supporters who were concerned the project would hurt an ecosystem that hosts species including deer, coyote and owls. They questioned the proposal at length at a Parks Commission meeting in December.
“I think a love of the outdoors and a real consideration for the conservation of the environment is what got everyone to the table,” said Janna Gau, an Edmond attorney and spokeswoman for The Friends of Martin Nature Park. “I think in the end the animals and the people will be satisfied.”
Wilderness Matters will lean on the expertise of longtime advocates for the park as plans progress, McMahan said.
“They know the park much better than we do,” he said.
Plans are for phased construction, timed over several winters so as not to interfere with wildlife nesting activities in the park. Phased construction also will allow Wilderness Matters to “show as you go” the benefits of the park improvements, McMahan said.
Specific plans for materials, locations for work, potential contractors and a cost analysis will be brought back to the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments before the council gives final approval to begin construction.
Wilderness Matters has promised to fund an endowment to maintain improvements made at the park, at 4700 W Memorial Road, just west of Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City.
McMahan said 700,000 Oklahomans have a major life disability.
“I realized so many other people with disabilities were being overlooked,” he said.
“We want to make nature available to everyone.”
For more information, go to wilderness