Taking a Look at OKC Trails
What makes a city great?
Some could certainly argue the quality of life of its citizens is a major impact.
Part of that quality of life includes health and recreation.
That means safe, viable trails for cyclists, runners and walkers.
Oklahoma City’s worked on this for the past decade and a half and hopes to continue into the foreseeable future.
On an early summer morning just south of Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City, Bill Elliott with the Oklahoma Bicycle Society pulls up in his recumbent tricycle.
The unusual horizontal contraption allows for a more comfortable ride than the skinny, two wheeled version.
Eventually we get to talking about the nearly 75 miles of trails currently in the metro.
Bill calls the system a great way to see Oklahoma City like no one else.
“There’s a lot of history in Oklahoma City and all these trails provide a person with opportunities to experience the city in places that a lot of times a car can’t get to.”
Another member of the Oklahoma City bike club, Nathan Lorenz, stands by the bike he uses on a daily basis for commuting to work on the other side of the Lake.
Nathan calls it a shortcut.
“There’s no way to get from Grand Boulevard to Britton Road unless you get all the way to May. I can cut straight across. And yeah there’s little hidden areas with ponds where I’ve run into beavers coming out of the water and great big turtles and all kinds of wildlife and yeah, you can’t see that if you’re driving by car.”
A group of runners cool down near the cyclists.
Gena Barnhill who got to the lake hours earlier says she takes advantage of the trails system rather than Oklahoma City streets out of concerns over safety.
“That’s my thing I don’t like running on the roads at all and so if you don’t have a sidewalk you’re running in the grass. The more trails, the more parks that we can have it gives us more opportunities to be healthy.”
And there’s the rub…
Oklahoma City frequently ends up very low on lists where cities are ranked for their fitness.
In fact just last month the American College of Sports Medicine’s Fitness Index ranked Oklahoma City the least fit city out of 50 metropolitan areas.
City leaders were aware of this back in 1997 when they designed the Trails Master Plan which would eventually create more than 208 miles of trails around the city by 2020.
So how does Oklahoma City’s 75 miles compare with other cities of similar population?
Well Portland has more than 220 miles and Milwaukee an estimated 325 miles.
Over the past 15 years the problem with the Trails Master Plan has been the physical size of Oklahoma City.
Parks and Recreation spokesperson Jennifer McClintock says at 621 square miles, Oklahoma City’s one of the largest cities in landmass in the United States.
So I think the difficulty is putting trails in place that can reach all of our population. So much of the people that we serve are in more ex-urban areas they aren’t necessarily in the city core.”
And the Trails Master Plan constantly goes through rewrites as Oklahoma City grows and changes.
“With the way that the population density has shifted or maybe there’s different highways that are in these areas they might not make as much sense in regards to access or getting people to where they need to be and connecting to other trails.”
So, currently the main trail system centers around Oklahoma City’s three lakes and the Oklahoma River as well as the Katy Trail running from the river to the Adventure District in the northeastern section of town.
But more could be coming soon.
In 2009, Oklahoma City voters approved MAPS Three which includes $40 million for 57 extra miles of trails.
That would bring us to about 140 miles and comparable to a metropolitan area more like Oklahoma City’s in land mass: Houston at 128 miles of trails
Of course all that is contingent on bond money being available, and the city council giving its approval.
Back at Lake Hefner, Bill Elliott shows us a map of the trails that already exist and the future plans.
He says he’s ready to see a better system to connect all the areas of the city together.
“I hope that the MAPS three money that’s going toward pedestrian and bicycle trails will accelerate so we’ll start to see some results of that soon, among those would be the connector from the river trail to Overholser.”
City officials are also talking about linking the eastern part of the Oklahoma River to Lake Stanley Draper.
While it’s unclear how many people use the 57 miles of trails, city officials say tens of thousands use the one around Lake Hefner every year.