Byline: Braden Harper/Reporter
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – According to Blane Stacy of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, sometimes you must stop and smell the roses. A great place to unwind in the embrace of nature can be found at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Eco park, formally the Okmulgee Country Club. The MCN Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources partnered with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to host a native plant identification and nature walk on Nov. 3.
“It’s a great way to see different plant species that grow around Okmulgee but also learn a little bit about the natural ecosystem and ecology and enjoy being outdoors,” Stacy said.
The walk featured comfortable weather and was open to the public to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. Adults and Henryetta Public School Students were treated to a tour led by Stacy, where he shared his vast knowledge of native plant species.
Students from the 3rd grade to high school participated in the walk. Brooklyn Cowan is the assistant Johnson-O’Malley Coordinator and the 4-H Leader for Henryetta Public Schools. Her students were exposed to a new learning environment outside the classroom.
They like it, especially our high school students; they’re on the wildlife management team for the state, so they compete. They’re learning a lot, and the little kids enjoy it.” Cowan said.
Stacy identified native and non-native species along the walk. These included blue stems, purple tops, greasy grass, tall fescue, bermudagrass, pine trees, green ash, cottonwood, Bradford pear, and Chinese privet. Some are invasive, and some are noninvasive.
Stacy is a rangeland specialist. He works with the 84 conservation districts and the three tribal conservation districts in Oklahoma. He previously worked in conservation with the Kaw Tribe. Stacy loves sharing his knowledge with others.
“I didn’t choose this career path; it just kind of chose me,” Stacy said. “My life experiences led me toward a more harmonious natural view of our world.”
The park’s site initially opened as the Okmulgee Golf Course in 1920, later renamed the Okmulgee Country Club. However, the venture became defunct, with the grounds left vacant. The MCN bought the property in 2012 with initial plans to bring the club back.
While many locals are familiar with the site as a former golf course, it has now been repurposed as an eco park. Where there were once 18 holes with curated grass now lie overgrown native plants and cultivated hay bales.
Preserving native plant species in their natural habitats is essential for regulating wildlife, climate, air quality, and the water cycle. When an invasive plant species makes its home in a foreign environment, it can have dangerous consequences. It can cause competition for natural resources, reduce biodiversity and disrupt ecosystems.
The MCN Agricultural Department’s plan for the former golf course is to allow nature to reclaim it with some direction from the land’s caretakers. According to MCN Wildlife Technician Brooklyn Bartling, they are slowly reintegrating native species and want a place for everyone to enjoy.
“We’ve got 15 pollinating patches out here; right now, they look like bear dirt but soon will be planted in the spring to have a blazing star, Illinois bundle flower, milkweed,” Bartling said. “I would love to have everyone come out, take pictures, look, and have this as an education spot.”
The park is still in the early stages of development. According to Bartling, the park’s name is a work in progress. They would like the name to stand out amongst other eco parks and name it something from the Mvskoke Language.
“It should just kind of hit home with everybody that you would want to preserve it as natural and native as possible,” Bartling said.
On top of the benefits of getting fresh air, the park helps remind everyone of the importance of conservation and ecology preservation.
“Just being more aware of our natural ecosystem, how it functions and how to improve it where we can is really what I think the day is about,” Stacy said.
While the nature walk is held annually, the Eco park is open to the public. Officials ask that people park in the designated parking lot next to the former Okmulgee Country Club Building and do not drive their motor vehicles within the park.