A nature park in northwest Oklahoma City may soon get a makeover that would allow easier access by disabled people.
The city's Parks Commission voted Wednesday to recommend the city council adopt a controversial plan that could bring a tree house, sensory garden and new surfacing for two trails at Martin Park Nature Center, 5000 W Memorial.
The unanimous vote came after 20 people debated the plan for more than an hour.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for Oklahomans to celebrate the positive development of exposing nature to everyone,” Jack McMahan, executive director for Wilderness Matters.
The nonprofit group presented a revised plan for the center that convinced the commission to favor it but which did little to assuage the concerns of an opposition group, many of whom live in the neighborhoods adjacent to the park.
The fundamentals of the design proposal remain the same: a center that is more accessible to disabled users, including a hard surface overlay for some dirt trails and programming that would allow even blind or wheelchair users to enjoy it.
The revised plan calls for improvements to be made in stages over a three-year period, with construction happening only during the offseason of bird migration.
McMahan also presented an environmental assessment and the endorsement of a biologist that he said demonstrate the plan would not impact the center as a habitat.
He said Wilderness Matters has raised a third of the $1 million the project is anticipated to cost and will develop an endowment to support long-term maintenance of the center.
“We're going to demonstrate to the parks department … what our work will in fact look like before we proceed to the next phase,” McMahan told the commission.
Critics said they are concerned the project might disturb the center's ecosystem and asked that the commission take more time to study its impact.
Martin Park Nature Center was developed as a sanctuary for animals and should not be developed, said Carol Mears, president of the Val Verde Homeowners Association.
Neil Garrison, who retired as a naturalist at the center in 2009, said there are shortcomings to the environmental assessment.
“The new trail that is being proposed going to the southeast portion will have a major impact on wildlife,” he said.
McMahan said the proposed plan is nonintrusive, and that the resurfaced trails would be 4 feet wide and would be built with crushed stone and not paved, similar to walking paths at Myriad Botanical Gardens and the trails at Lake Hefner.
The improvements would involve less than two acres of the 144-acre center, he said.
“It's not like we're talking about needing to do drastic things to make these improvements,” he said.
In all, 11 people spoke against the plan, and nine spoke in support, including six who use wheelchairs.
Wendel Whisenhunt, director of parks and recreation for Oklahoma City, said the plan would need final approval from the council before construction begins.
He said the parks department will develop a formalized plan before presenting it to the council and that there will be more opportunities for public comment.
To learn more
For more information about Martin Park Nature Center, go to www.