Whatever happened to Cousins Park?
Nothing, it turns out. And that’s not sitting well with members of the Tulsa Park and Recreation Board.
“I think it’s scandalous, I really do,” said Dale McNamara, a long-time board member.
McNamara made her remark during last week’s Park and Recreation Board meeting. It was in direct response to the news — old news, by now — that work on Cousins Park, 4514 East 121st St., remains on hold until Tulsa County makes good on its promise to help build it.
That promise, in the form of a contract with the city, was to provide labor and equipment for the construction of the park’s asphalt parking lot in return for the city’s providing the materials. The work was to have begun no later than July 2015 and was scheduled to take 30 days to complete.
The “timeframe and duration” of the work could be altered upon agreement by both parties, according to the contract.
“The thing that concerns me is that when this whole Cousins Park thing was presented, there were people who donated money expecting it to be finished,” McNamara said after the meeting. “Now, we are starting to get questions from the donors: ‘Well, what’s going on?’
“To me, it is extremely embarrassing.”
Tulsa County Engineer Tom Rains said he’s the one responsible for the delay and that he did not realize the contract included a deadline for when the work had to be completed.
“We’re trying to find a time in our schedule to do it,” Rains said.
But that time likely won’t be found for a few months. Most of the county’s street crews will spend the summer sealing roads, Rains said.
“It would be after Labor Day before we can get down and do something,” he said.
Rains estimates it will take three to four weeks to construct the 60-space parking lot.
Cousins Park occupies nearly 45 acres of untouched land at 121st Street and South Delaware Avenue. The city’s plan for the property is to maintain that natural feel by turning it into a combination nature center, nature preserve and pioneer park operated with assistance from the Oxley Nature Center Association.
Gary Schellhorn with the city’s Engineering Services Department said the major first amenity to be built at the park will be a walking trail that will someday connect to the River Parks trail system. The final design for the trail is nearly complete and work could begin as soon as the fall if the parking lot is in place. The trail is expected to take about six months to complete, Schellhorn said.
The city is using $245,000 from its long-term capital improvements fund to pay for the parking lot, a walking trail and a security fence. The Parks Department has already spent all $11,666 in donations that it has received to construct a decorative concrete plaza with natural rock benches.
Tulsans approved $1.975 million in the Improve Our Tulsa capital improvements package to fund major construction on the site. Those funds, which will not be available until fiscal years 2020 and 2021, will pay for a one-room school house, a pioneer house and a barn, each of which could be used for conducting classes or other events. The funds will also pay for a visitors center.
Charles Cousins conceived of the park in the late 1970s or early ’80s as a tribute to his wife, Grace Cousins.
The Cousins family donated 10 acres at the southwest corner of 121st Street and Yale Avenue to the Parks Department in 1998, with the stipulation that it remain a conservation area and that the family be involved in its design.
The city later purchased 35 acres bounded by 121st Street, Yale Avenue and the Arkansas River for $950,000 with the intention of turning the entire site into a park.
Now, all these years later, the Park Board is anxious to show off the property.
There are “eagles, herons, cranes,” said Park Board Chairwoman Teresa Burkett. “It’s a beautiful grassland and riverbed area that people could enjoy walking around.
“It’s a neighborhood park for south Tulsa, and really, that little piece of town doesn’t have a whole lot of parks. That is a park we’d like to make available to people.”