By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Oklahoma City’s Martin Park Nature Center will officially open its new Wilderness Matters Overlook boardwalk on Friday, April 6. The boardwalk will provide an elevated view of the 20-acre pond and surrounding forest in the heart of Martin Park Nature Center at 5000 W Memorial Road.
Park officials say that the boardwalk will help to provide visitors with a “life-changing and life-sustaining exposure to the outdoors.”
The Overlook is situated near the Visitor Center, which will re-open to the public on April 6, completing a 2007 bond program-funded renovation project.
Wilderness Matters collected donations for the design and construction of the Overlook, which was then donated to the City of Oklahoma City. The group has funded and completed several other groundbreaking accessibility projects at the Martin Nature Park. Integris Health is the largest of many contributing donors.
“Our mission has always been to improve accessibility for people with other abilities by creating an accessible trail with an improved surface, interpretive exhibits and improved signage while preserving Martin Park Nature Center’s unique ecological features,” said Wilderness Matters co-founder and board chairman Peter Hoffman.
“With the new addition of the Overlook, coupled with these previous improvements, the park has the promise of becoming an important regional landmark that enhances the quality of life in Oklahoma City and surrounding areas.”
Wilderness Matters privately raised about $1 million dollars to pay for the project.
Founded in 2012, the Wilderness Matters mission is to provide universal accessibility to public nature parks, wildlife areas, trails, camps, and other outdoor venues. The group joins with city, state, local agencies, and private organizations to enhance specific locations to ensure that people with disabilities can access and enjoy the outdoor experience more fully.
Wilderness Matters partnered with Oklahoma City in 2013 to make park improvements, which were developed in two phases.
The first phase made improvements to one of Martin Park’s trails, along with new informative trail exhibits and improved trail signage.
Partially funded by the Integris Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Hospital, the Courage trail opened in 2015. It provides about ¾ of a mile of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act standards) -accessible surface that allows users to enjoy the park’s woodlands, meadows and streams.
New enhancements include improved wayfinding signage for the vision and hearing impaired, touch based interpretive exhibits with Braille, hand held audio devices featuring nature information and storytelling, and a wheelchair accessible “tree house.”
These improvements make it easier for all visitors to navigate the park and benefit from its resources and amenities.
The idea for the Courage trail came from Oklahoma City resident Jack McMahan, whose own experience with disability inspired him to create new ways for others to enjoy nature and wildlife.
The project’s second phase is the creation of the new Overlook, which connects to the Courage Trail and incorporates a series of ramps and viewing platforms to provide expansive views for all park visitors.
The Courage Trail and Overlook both use ADA-accessible designs and surfaces to improve visitor’s safety while navigating through steep slopes, steps, roots and other obstacles. https://www.facebook.com/WildernessMatters/
Published in September 2010, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for accessible design applies to the construction and alteration of public, commercial, state, and local government facilities. https://www.ada.gov/
The project is the culmination of Wilderness Matters’ vision to make it possible for everyone in Oklahoma City to spend time outdoors, which they believe is an essential part of enhancing one’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Wilderness Matters expects the improvements at Martin Park to serve as a model for other communities to pursue public-private partnerships to improve accessibility to naturally beautiful places.