By: Scott Emigh, Editor-in-Chief
Case Community Park, previously known as River City Park, is the flagship of the Sand Springs Parks Department. While the City is partnering with philanthropist Mike Case and using Vision 2025 funding to give the 100-acre park a $6.2 million dollar face-lift, another once-great park sits just a mile down the road--seemingly forgotten by many in its community.
Estill Park was once a beloved recreation destination, sitting just a hair outside of Sand Springs city-limits. Now it's a dumping ground with little risk of repercussions. The mile-and-a-half-long Tulsa County park stretched from Euchee Creek in the East to Shell Creek in the West and featured a parking lot, a playground, park benches, and pavilions. At its eastern boundary there was a boat ramp, now destroyed, where fishermen and recreational boaters could launch into the Arkansas River.
"It was a garden of Eden," says former park-goer Ralph Emigh. "It was absolutely an awesome place. For a kid growing up in the seventies it was a romantic place with the fire pits and the river going by."
Today, former park-goers wouldn't recognize it. The area is still used for fishing, four-wheeling and shooting guns. At present time, two abandoned vehicles sit in the sand, riddled with bullet holes and vandalism. Charred boat hulls sit in ruin. One of the vehicles has been reported stolen, according to a Sand Springs Police officer. However, the property is under the jurisdiction of the Tulsa County Sheriff's Department, who says the vehicle would be too difficult to remove due to how far out in the riverbed it is.
The park isn't the only thing that has been neglected. A daily drive down Wekiwa will send your car to the shop for an alignment and new shocks in no time. The guard rails are broken down and overgrown with weeds. Fallen trees and limbs still lay beside the road from a tornadic system that devastated the area in March of 2015.
"If you don't have roads, people don't travel and use the resources," says Dr. Josh Turley, who has already declared his candidacy for the Tulsa County Commissioner election in 2020. "I hate that we have land there that should be accessible, but people can't use it. We're not focusing where we need to be focusing."
Turley compares the loss of Estill Park to that of the lower section of Chandler Park. Tennis courts, pavilions, picnic tables, and more have all been closed to the public for a decade since an ice storm riddled the area with debris in 2007. The County decided it was easier to abandon the area than to clean it up and reopen it.
The west side of Tulsa County has definitely endured some neglect in past years. But things may finally be on the upswing.
In April of 2016 Tulsa County voters approved a 0.05% sales tax renewal, $3,000,000 of which is slated to go toward reconstruction of a two-mile stretch of Wekiwa from 129th West Avenue to Shell Creek. The Vision Tulsa funding will provide for reconstruction of the roadway with a new base, new asphalt surfacing, and wider shoulder and guard rail placement. Welcome news--but long overdue. According to a Vision Tulsa report, the road is considered to be in "Very Bad Condition," with average daily traffic between one and two thousand.
County Engineer Tom Rains says the Wekiwa Road project is still in the earliest stages, and plans have to be drawn. He expects it will be two years at the earliest before the project is complete.
Chandler Park will also receive $4,350,000 in Vision Tulsa funding for a new swimming pool and upgrades to the youth baseball fields. $1,000,000 of that will go to re-developing the lower-level park. The Master Plan for the park renovation was released in May of last year and calls for nearly $19 million in total costs, with more than $2.5 million for the lower level. The County approved the plan, but hasn't come up with a way to fund it yet.
Euchee Creek, Estill Park's eastern boundary, received a big improvement in 2013. Sand Springs first began a study of the Euchee Creek watershed in 2003 due to flooding concerns, and reconstructed the mouth of the creek in 2013. During that process the City cleared a section of trees and radically improved accessibility from Wekiwa.
The Euchee Creek area in particular is a historic landmark. The Oklahoma Euchee (also spelled Yuchi) tribe today are enrolled as citizens in the Muscogee Creek Nation. According to a May 2005 Report on Cultural Resources prepared by the Guernsey Consulting firm, the mouth of the Euchee once held a Creek Nation community center before Sand Springs was even incorporated. The tribe later relocated to present-day Sapulpa, where their national headquarters is to this day.
Much of the property was donated to Tulsa County by the Estill family in the 1970s, and upon the closure of the park, it was given to the State Highway Department. The Sand Springs Home Trust owns a piece of the land west of the Euchee, and the City of Sand Springs purchased the eastern side in 2013 with plans to build new Police and Fire Stations on the property. The expected site for those facilities has since been relocated to the Sheffield Crossing development on Morrow Road. The City is limited by an agreement with the Home Trust on what it can do with the land.
The mouth of the Euchee was the base of a massive cleanup effort this past weekend. Newly-founded Tulsa-based nonprofit organization The Power of Partial Improvements spearheaded an all-day event in the former Estill Park area that drew more than fifty volunteers over the course of the day.