Martin Park Nature Center is opening an hour earlier Saturdays and offering an outdoor yoga class this summer for those who want to experience wildlife at the edge of the city.
By 8:30 a.m. Saturday, the park had already been open for half an hour, and a few cars had possession of the parking lot. As much of the world used the morning to sleep in, the birds and animals were awake, and so were a handful of women laying out blankets and mats for a yoga lesson.
Keren Beasley, an art teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School, was leading two friends on an early morning hike.
The superintendent of the park was taking part in the yoga class and zoning out traffic sounds from the John Kilpatrick Turnpike a few hundred yards away. She didn't notice a doe walk by the group and make a huffing sound. Later, she laughed and said she wished she could've seen it.
“You don't have to go out of the city to find nature,” Jennifer McClintock said. “Nature is right here on Memorial Road.”
Most of the activities are free. Guided tours cost $2, and the yoga class is $10 per session.
“For me, it's being able to disconnect from the computer, the television, all of those things that keep us channeled in to what we call our modern reality,” McClintock said. “It's not just for nature lovers. It's like a retreat.”
For Beasley, going to the nature center is a small reminder of her hometown — Crescent, population 1,400 — an hour north of Oklahoma City.
Beasley said she walks the trails at Martin Park every weekend, and on Saturday she was with a friend from college and the woman's husband. They came to a bridge, and she leaned over the railing and pointed out snapping turtles and fish that were more than a foot long.
She said sometimes the water level gets very shallow. Other times it floods, and runoff from the red dirt forms new banks on Bluff Creek that weren't there before.
She doesn't like to see all the concrete in the city because that means less ground to soak up the water.
“The sad part about this park is there's so much buildup,” she said. “Some of the trails have eroded down into the bank.”
The threesome hopped across flat rocks in the creek. Water gains oxygen as it flows over the rocks, which is good for the fish, Beasley said.
On the bank, they found an animal bone and a crawdad. Further along the trail, they stopped to touch a toad and to eat wild cherry plums, which are tart and dry and look like cherries.
Martin Park occupies 140 acres about 20 minutes northwest of downtown Oklahoma City. Originally part of the Creek Indian Nation, it changed hands to European settlers after the Homestead Act and the Oklahoma Territorial Land Run of 1889. It once held a dairy farm and was the site of a Girl Scout day camp, according to material provided by the park.
In 1962, the city purchased the land and named it Martin Park in memory of J.T. Martin, a park board commissioner who promoted the bond issues that helped pay for the property.
Beasley said she wants to find ways to support the park and get her students involved. She volunteers with the Oklahoma Master Naturalist Program, and every month she helps check the bacteria levels at Bluff Creek. Next year, she wants to plan a field trip for students from the elementary school.
At one time, she thought about getting a degree in forestry, and she might still go back. As an art instructor, she teaches students about nature through habitat guides and other projects.
“There's not a lot of hiking stuff around here,” Beasley said. “So this is the closest thing I can get to being in nature and with the animals.”