While Tulsans have been waiting since as early as 2012 for The Gathering Place to open to the public, some of the less-patient have taken matters into their own hands.
Construction on the massive $465 million dollar park began in late 2014, but for years the site was mainly just dirt and rock as construction workers slowly prepared the location to blossom into a world-class park.
But more recently, as the park neared completion and most of the assets had been put into place, it offered something of a siren call to those who didn’t want to wait for the Sept. 8 Grand Opening.
Such as a group of four Oral Roberts University students who recently sat down with The Frontier to describe their multiple break-ins to the park, what drew them there and why they took the risk.
The students’ names are being withheld to protect their identity. Some answers have been edited for clarity.
The Frontier: So when did you all first start going?
B: I went for the first time in March, it was me and some buddies. My friend had already done it and we wanted to go investigate. We went at night and like, the gate was open, it was unlocked. That was the easiest time.
D: The first time I went … we walked through the gate to get in. We didn’t know if there’s like people around or security so we had to be really careful. It was such a videogame moment. It felt like Jurassic Park or this post-apocalyptic world, because at that point everything was really modern but it wasn’t complete.
The Frontier: Why go to the risk of sneaking in? Why not just wait for it to open?
C: You just keep hearing about it, so there was a lot of mystery.
D: I was born in Tulsa, I was raised here, and it’s going to be here forever. So that means there is just a very small window of time that I would be able to see the park in this state. No one will ever see it in this state again.
C: We can only do it for a set period of time, but the thrill of going in … it really did feel like a video game. We were exploring this hidden place. It was like a fantasy adventure. You know, at ORU you’re kind of limited in what you can do in terms of fun, so you get really creative. You don’t realize it, but those limitations make you more creative. So this was just a way for us to get out and have fun in a different way.
A: They had invited me before, but I was so busy. And then D asked me “What are you going to remember more, the homework you’ve done, or the memories with your friends?” I was like shoot, OK.
D: (Sneaking in) was like a video game, you got a little bit further every time. You’re just leveling up.
B: It definitely got progressively harder to get in.
The Frontier: Did security ever catch you or get close to catching you?
C: Really it wasn’t that hard. There was a car that would drive around, like just around the perimeter. So we would hide, see the car, wait for it to pass, then move. If you could get into the park it was no problem really. It was like seriously three people.
B: Actually the first time I went in with some other guys, we were exploring in there and a spotlight got shined right on us. We just froze, but it must have been OK because no one came and we stayed in like an hour after that.
A: The first time I went with them, we didn’t have to hide. Once you were in, it was OK. But security definitely got strengthened. I was scared but I felt pretty safe.
D: Me and A, we are both the same in that we don’t really do things we’re not supposed to. The fact that we did this was a very big deal. I mean, we shouldn’t have broken in, yeah it was wrong.
B: Honestly it gave me pride.
D: Yeah I’ve definitely sold the park to so many of my friends. I feel like an ambassador.
A: It was so easy to get in the first time we went that I didn’t even feel like we were breaking in.
D: We definitely did have to run through someone’s backyard, though.
B: It was pitch black.
D: I’m short, I mean, the times we had to climb a fence, that wasn’t easy for me.
The Frontier: What was the appeal? Was it just the thrill of this big spot you’re not supposed to be in?
D: That and just we haven’t seen anything really, about what it was like inside (Editor’s note: The students apparently missed our video tours of the park.)
C: Yeah the idea of the 1 a.m. adventure. Just even trying to get into the park itself.
The Frontier: Did you ever wonder what would happen if you did get caught?
A: I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal, just like we’d get a warning, and then like they’d call our parents.
D: I did, I worried about it a lot.
The Frontier: What was it like to be alone inside the park while it was incomplete?
C: It felt like a mini version of Disney World, but there were times you kind of realize it felt like a creepy unfinished park. It was so quiet.
A: It was so cool, you’re up on the hill so you can see the downtown lights.
D: It’s like Willie Wonka’s factory. It was so magical. There were no lights, right in front of you is downtown, the industrial lights are off to your left. There’s no traffic, no sound. It was magical. It will never be like that again.
C: I really felt like I was a kid a again.
B: Yeah, it was the only time we’ll get to enjoy it like we’re kids. It felt like our kingdom, we felt like we had control over that whole place
D: I was really glad to enjoy it without kids and parents being there. We got to check everything out without people being like, you’re an adult, get out of here, this part is for kids.
B: You know what’s funny is that since we went at night, we didn’t really take pictures. I mean the pictures we took you can’t see anything really. It makes it better … I’m glad we didn’t take pictures because now it’s all up to our memories.
C: Yeah, it’s a story you can express with words, it makes for better memories.
The Frontier: Are you still excited to go back to the park when it’s officially open or is it old news now?
C: It gets me more hyped to see it finished. But I think i’ll be nostalgic too, like for the place it was when we made our memories there.
A: I’m more excited now. Everyone I know is more excited, they know I’ve been, so they either are asking me to take them or asking me about what I saw.
D: The whole experience of it was just so amazing.
B: It gave me so much pride, like it’s amazing that this thing is going to be in Tulsa.