Redbud Valley Nature Preserve is a place of quiet beauty and rugged scenery. Here
are plants and animals found nowhere else in northeastern Oklahoma. It is a very
special habitat, preserved for all of us to enjoy.
Valley was originally purchased by The Nature Conservancy in the late
1960's. Dr. Harriet Barclay was a professor at TU, and she spearheaded the
effort to have it acquired, then worked with the Tulsa Tribune on a fund drive
to raise the necessary money to repay The Nature Conservancy. TU maintained the
property until the
area was transferred to the City of Tulsa in 1990, and it is now managed as a part of Oxley Nature
Center in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy. Under guidance from The
Friends of Oxley Nature Center, the caretaker's house was renovated and the
Barclay Visitor's Center created.
History of Redbud Valley
Map and Trail Description
History of Redbud Valley
by Amy Morris
Redbud Valley Nature Preserve—–Dreams Do Come True!
On a drive 12 miles northeast of downtown Tulsa, a dusty road drops from the
flat grasslands into a cool, lush haven of unusual flora, fauna, and geology
reminiscent of the Ozarks. Here, Dr. Harriet Barclay of the University of
Tulsa, took her students to study the unique environment of a living classroom
known as Redbud Valley. Over those 40 years of exploration, the fragility of
the valley became increasingly apparent to Dr. Barclay. Bordered by the Port of
Catoosa, the Dewey Rocky Mountain Portland Cement Company, and threatened by
progress from increasing commercial and industrial development, Redbud Valley
was in danger of being swallowed up by conflicting outside forces. A true
wilderness treasure was in danger of disappearing.
Dr. Barclay took action. In the summer of 1969 she approached the Nature
Conservancy in Washington D.C. with a request for help in preserving the 85-acre
wilderness tract. The conservancy agreed, purchasing the land for $80,000. They
then leased it to TU for $1 a year, with the stipulation that the
debt must be paid off with funds raised locally.
Redbud Valley Nature Preserve became the first Nature Conservancy project in
A 13-member project committee, consisting of representatives of the life
sciences department at TU and other nature organizations, began raising funds to
pay back the loan. Many people and organizations stepped forward to help. The
project committee had raised $35,000 toward paying off the debt when they
appealed to The Tulsa Tribune for help.
That was 34 years ago. On April 5, 1972, the newspaper began writing a series
of articles on Redbud Valley Nature Preserve. Environment writer, Jim Sellers,
set forth a challenge, enlisting the aid of the citizens of Tulsa and the
surrounding communities. The Tulsa Tribune set a fund-raising goal of $60,000;
$45,000 to pay off the debt, and $15,000 for improvements such as signage and
parking; with a deadline of May 20, 1972.
In the days and weeks that followed, the Tribune introduced its readers to the
wonders of Redbud Valley, and the importance of its preservation. With the
support of the project committee and others, tours of the site, and lectures on
its uniqueness, helped the public understand what was being asked of it.
Donations started to flow in on a daily basis.
One donor wrote ”Granted, $1 as one raindrop, doesn’t make much of a splash
itself; but if each ecology-minded person would mail a $1 contribution today,
Redbud Valley would belong to Tulsa tomorrow.” And it wasn’t just Tulsa that
would benefit. Donations were coming from all over Oklahoma and from other
states. Contributions arrived day by day, dollar by dollar, paying off the
$45,000 debt, reducing the principal and interest on the note, one small amount
at a time. All contributions were acknowledged daily in the Tribune.
Leading with donations were the young people of the area; schools, university
students, Girl Scout troops, 4-H clubs, and Campfire Girls. On April 15, pupils
at Hoover Elementary School organized an on-going fund-raising competition.
Their original goal was to raise $100, which they accomplished in three days by
running errands, selling pop bottles, and knocking on doors. They quickly
revised their goal to $1000, and amazed and delighted their parents, teachers,
Principal Walker Dobson, and The Tulsa Tribune with their total donation of
Holland Hall Middle School students produced a 50-page publication called Rebus
(Latin for riddle or puzzle) filled with drawings, writings, mazes, and thoughts
centered around nature, pollution, and conservation. The magazine was made
available for 25 cents, with all proceeds going to Redbud Valley.
Numerous garden clubs were among the most consistent contributors. Nature
lovers, grandparents, anonymous individuals, nursing home residents, the
Kiwanis Club, Rock and Mineral Society, Inc., honorariums and memorials to
various individuals; all these gifts helped the fund grow. By April 28, the
fund reached over $10,000. The project committee sent out letters to large
businesses encouraging them to join the project. PSO was the first large firm
to make a donation, followed by others.
On May 16, a little over $19,909 had been raised, approximately one third of the
goal that had been set for the May 20 deadline. The Tulsa Tribune acknowledged
that if the goal was not met, they would continue to accept donations through
the summer and then conduct a follow-up drive in the autumn. $25,000 became the
temporary goal for the “spring effort”. On the 22 of May, University of Tulsa
President J. Paschal Twyman presented a gift from TU of $10,000, saying ”The
preservation of this ideal laboratory would contribute significantly to the
educational experience of countless numbers of university students in the years
to come.” Donations now totaled $34,391.09. Apparently, the “spring fund
drive” wasn’t over yet!
“Readers Determined” said the headline in The Tulsa Tribune on the 24 of June.
Five days earlier the editors felt certain they would have to extend the
campaign to pay off the mortgage into the autumn. With another flood of checks
arriving daily, they were no longer so sure. Contributions, large and small,
continued to pour in. By June 6, the Tribune reports, “Our readers have pushed
the drive to save Redbud Valley Nature Preserve past the $40,000 mark!”
By July 1, funds totaled $43,278.45, and by March 20, 1973 over $49,000 had been
raised. The loan from The Nature Conservancy had been paid in full, as
stipulated, by funds raised locally. By April 25, 1974, readers had responded
to the fund-drive sponsored by The Tulsa Tribune by contributing $50,000! An
amazing thing had happened. All kinds of people drew together, gave what they
could, and made the dream a reality everyone could own. Redbud Valley had been
preserved, not only for the present but also for future generations.
This wild preserve is still a safe respite and refuge not only for the unusual
flora, fauna, and geology; and the university students who knew it through
field trips; but also for all people who wish to enjoy its beauty and study its
unique features. You can still drive down that two-lane road where you drop
suddenly into that magical world. Managed by the City of Tulsa’s Oxley Nature
Center since 1990, Redbud Valley Nature Preserve is open Wednesdays through
Sundays. In 1992 the City of Tulsa purchased additional acreage, increasing
the Preserve to nearly 200 acres. An interpretive building near the trail-head
contains exhibits and is staffed from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Occasional
programs are offered here, from primitive skills classes to wildflower or
geology walks. The best thing though, the simple thing, is to take a walk,
clear your head, and heighten your senses.
Along the steep hillside, cool and moist, you’ll find Sugar Maples, Blue Ash,
and Dutchmen’s Britches. Above Bird Creek, towering limestone bluffs and caves,
with seeps and springs, provide a microhabitat for bats, a variety of ferns, and
columbine. Fossils of crinoids, brachiopods, and horn coral from a long ago
inland sea, may lay visible to the sharp eye, partially buried in the rocks
beneath your feet.
Climbing higher still, you arrive on the top of the limestone where a shallow
layer of soil hosts Smoke Tree, mixed-oak woodlands, various grasses and forbs,
two species of cactus, and yucca. Beneath the rocks, tarantulas share their
homes with Great Plains Narrow-Mouth Toads, and scorpions hide during the day.
Several species of snakes and lizards live here, as do over 200 species of
birds, and a variety of mammals. The narrow trail through this preserve hints of
the wildlife that thrives here and uses the same trail, leaving scat, tracks,
and food remnants. These residents are the only ones who can wander off the
trail, who can feed on the plants, who can use the resource. We visitors can
collect only photos, drawings, knowledge, and memories. But how very lucky that
we can, due to the foresight of those individuals 34 years ago. A small thing,
a great thing...come experience it for yourself. And tread lightly, gratefully,
on this small piece of wilderness. It’s your place too.
Numerous references for this piece are from
The Tulsa Tribune articles written during the fund drive in 1972.
The habitat here was created where Bird Creek and its tributaries
cut through a thick limestone layer. This has formed valleys edged with tall
limestone cliffs. The limestone, in turn, has been dissolved by water to create
several small caves and springs. Where the tall cliffs face north, they shade
the area from sun and keep it cool and moist. This special combination allows
plants like ferns, Columbine and Dutchman's Breeches to grow, and shelters
native Oklahoma Sugar Maples. Many of the plants in this habitat are more common
in the Ozark Mountains to the east.
Dutchman's Breeches John Kennington
Breeches at Redbud Valley blanket the hillside in early April
that this unusual plant, as with all other plants at Oxley and Redbud, should
not be disturbed, picked or dug up.
On top of the limestone, however, the soil is thin and dries
quickly, allowing plants like yucca and two species of cactus to flourish. There
are also many plants here common on the prairies to the west. One tree of
interest found here is the Smoke Tree, Cotinus obovatus. The combination of the
dry and moist habitats, existing side by side, gives Redbud Valley its special
The Main Trail
The main trail system at Redbud Valley consists of
one loop trail, approximately one mile in length. The trail is steep and rugged
in spots, and is faint or braided in others. The trail can be very rough in a
few areas. Use caution and be sure of your footing, especially on slopes.
||The trail begins at the parking lot (1) and goes west up the
steep slope. From the top of the rock outcrop (2), the trail winds through a
stunted woodland of Post Oak, Blackjack Oak and scattered Texas Hickory. Soon
you will begin to notice scattered Prickly Pear Cactus in the clearings. There
is Fragrant Sumac throughout this area, and a few small trees of Chittamwood, or
The trail forks (3) at which point you may decide whether you
want to choose the Prairie Fork or the Woodland Fork. Either trail will lead you
to the same spot. The Woodland Fork winds through a forested area, while the
Prairie Fork will take you through a section where the soil is so thin that few
trees grow. (If this is your first visit, we recommend the Prairie Fork.) Here
you will find much more cactus and many grasses and flowers typical of a dry
prairie habitat. Look carefully for the small Mammalaria cactus found
here, as well as for Yucca. Other interesting plants in this area are Smoke Tree
and Deciduous Holly. This are is sometimes burned as a management tool.
Eventually the two forks rejoin at the top of The Ravine
(4).This break in the cliff allows the trail to drop down to the base of the
cliff face. The environment here is radically different from the uplands, being
cooler and much more moist. Notice that several types of fern grow on the
limestone rocks. In spring you may find Columbine growing here.
|Turn right at the base of The Ravine (5). Not far is a good size
cave, and after that, an active spring (6) emerges from the base of the cliff
and feeds the ponds below. If the weather has been dry, the spring may produce
barely a trickle, but after a good rain, the spring will run with surprising force. Look
for Sugar maples which are common in this area. You will pass several more small
caves before the trail begins to drop down the hillside to the bottom of the
||Just past the bottom of the hill the Bluff Trail begins, an
alternate and rugged route back to near the parking lot, following the
limestone ridge. Climbing up above the bluff and taking
"shortcuts" down the hillside kills rare plants and causes
From the bottom of the hill, the main trail wanders through the
flood-plain of Bird Creek, in a habitat much more typical of
northeastern Oklahoma. Still, the hillside to the south has unusual
plants, especially Dutchman's Breeches, which can proliferate in early
|The trail winds around large limestone blocks which have slipped
to the bottom of the hill. One of these is now surrounded by trees and large
grape vines. (This section can be very muddy in wet weather.) The trail
continues around the hill and returns to the parking lot (8).