Most of us think public parks are the sort of place parents and grandparents take children.
But on a recent visit to our daughter, Tricia, and her family in Tulsa, Oklahoma, they were eager to take us ol’ folks to a super-deluxe, ultimate public park. It’s called the Gathering Place. Even after checking it out online beforehand, I was stunned to see such an elaborate place and enticing playground for young and old.
The astonishing thing is that the whole project was privately planned and paid for. George Kaiser and his family foundation gifted the land and spearheaded attracting other Tulsa businesses, philanthropists and philanthropic organizations. By the time the project was finished, more than 80 different donors had joined the brigade to create the miraculous gift to the people of Tulsa.
Their purpose is to unite all neighborhoods, races, ages and demographics in a place where there’s something fun for everyone.
I confess that I play on park equipment whether it’s intended for adults or not, but at the Gathering Place, adults are intentionally made to feel as welcome as the tots.
And it’s free. It’s all free! Concerts, fabulous playgrounds, water play, a swimming hole, high ropes adventures and even a zip line are all free. The only opportunity to spend money is at the various restaurants and rental of small boats.
Designed by landscape architectural firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, they also took input from a variety of other Tulsa residents.
They have an entire section of the park of long, fast slides. Eager adults take turns with children. It’s so fun, it was hard to tear myself away to do my journalistic duty and go explore the massive climbing, swinging, balancing and splashing apparatus.
We visited on a Monday morning. There were plenty of people there, and the concept of gathering all sorts into one place is apparently working. There were groups of roving teenagers playing and climbing, laughing and encouraging each other. Mothers chatted with each other in the toddler play area, where children of several races got to know each other.
The equipment and structures are not only designed to stimulate active play and physical exercise, but also to be educational. Some areas, like the high ropes course, were daunting to me, even though my little grandkids scrambled up boldly, testing their balance and courage.
The park overlooks the glistening Arkansas River. Everywhere over the exciting areas gardens and lawn trim the major playground in colorful flowers, shrubs and trees.
There are volunteers watching over the areas, making sure participants are safe and equipment is operating properly.
One of the water play areas allows children to dam, channel, pour, spray and splash water in different ways. Another is a misty mountain where water runs through channels, cooling clouds spray out from above and a splash pad leaps and dances with happy children.
There are fun swings built for adults and children to ride together. How often do we adults get to enjoy a swing without the chagrin of spilling over the sides?
One of the features that seems unique was the playground that progresses in age/ability appropriateness from toddler to adult with playhouses and miniature towns in between.
Restrooms are clean and abundant. The park is open at 9 a.m. and playgrounds close at sundown. Other areas, like the outdoor amphitheater, close as late as 11 p.m.
Part of the charm of this fantastic “amusement park” is that its purpose is to facilitate learning, physical education, community spirit and unity, without charge. It’s not geared to tourists. Wise, generous and capable donors examined the problems in the Tulsa area and constructed a tool to solve those problems. Everyone is welcomed, but it was built for Tulsans by Tulsans.
It seems to me that the Gathering Place is a model for ultimate neighborhood-based, efficient and effective community solutions. All of Tulsa has a place to be proud of, a place to come together and to enjoy.
There’s more to do than can be accomplished in one day and the happy memories for Tulsa families will last many generations.
Only in America, God bless it.