Public Lands Project

Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge

Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR) turned out to be the first place to visit on my quest to explore public lands within Oklahoma; and that was based entirely on it being bald eagle nesting season. I'm the first to admit that my photo interests are in capturing landscapes, and not critters. Landscapes are easy- they don't fly away from you, and you don't need to stalk them. You can walk loudly and goof off as you set up your shot, and then just move on with your life. Not the case with wildlife, which is why I'm sorta terrible at it. I knew from the outset that I was going to be handicapping myself and my photography chances since I'm incapable of walking across any surface softly. 

 Didn't walk softly.

Didn't walk softly.

But as I said, bald eagle nesting season was upon me, and those majestic birds were supposed to be much more visible and active, provided I could sneak up close to a nesting tree and use my modest zoom lens to get a closer look. The odds were allegedly in my favor, despite my stomping walk. SNWR is located at the confluence of the Canadian and Arkansas rivers in east-central Oklahoma, and is in prime waterfowl and bald eagle territory. 

 Romantic mosquito breeding grounds.

Romantic mosquito breeding grounds.

20,800 acres of spongy wetlands, bottom-land hardwoods, and briar patches comprise the refuge which was put in place to provide habitat to local and migratory animals. While driving up to SNWR and the confluence it also seemed to be prime real estate to let your lawns go feral with small children, trash, and cars that someone has full intention of getting running again one day. Just after they pull the tree out of the engine block. 

Overall, this refuge is here for the animals, I hope. The acreage doesn't feel very inviting to any non-boating, non-fishing pole wielding visitors; where "Road Closed" signs dot the main track; inexplicably shutting down every enticing potential drive or hike.

 What's back there? I want to go there!

What's back there? I want to go there!

I hope those signs are there to protect nesting wildlife and to keep ATV traffic quelled in what would surely be mud-boggin' heaven. But who knows why, because I showed up mid-day on a Saturday to a closed volunteer run Visitor Center that is open during business hours Monday- Thursday. Because that makes sense. The large open fields leading up to the rivers were punctuated by large oak trees, which would be perfect for night photography landscapes, but the refuge is for day use only. There was a rising sense of exclusion the further we got into the refuge- maybe this land wasn't necessarily our land.

 No milky way shots for you here, woman.

No milky way shots for you here, woman.

We drove the two main roads, observing fields that had been torn up with what looked like knee high bulldozers- invasive wild boars that had eaten everything in their path. The boars were doing more damage to those Road Closed tracks than any vehicle would, and looked to be enjoying it. More manageable field damage was being done by the "alive" variety of armadillos, which I had never seen before. 

 Surprisingly not dead on the side of the road.

Surprisingly not dead on the side of the road.

Bald eagles were soaring overhead and nesting in far off trees, and taking down ducks for lunch in the rushes, well out of reach of the main road and my camera. All in all... lots of animals living out their lives in the refuge, which is exactly what it was set up to do. It can be hard to appreciate limited use land, especially when those uses are not for your primary enjoyment.

 Post duck filet lunch. 

Post duck filet lunch. 

My day wrapped up with hardly a parting glance to Sequoyah and the stout fisherman that lined a small muddy inlet. The refuge was being used, and that's the whole point. Just because this land didn't cater to my specific demographic or interests doesn't matter, because it was catering to the original demographic; the plants, animals, trees, and rivers. And that's far more important than being able to mud bog down a dirt track. 

Public Lands Project Introduction

Intro

As one is wont to do, I had intentions of looking for a specific photo deep in my hard drive archives and pulling it into the present for immediate editing. No distractions. No going down the memory lane rabbit hole. Absolutely do not open that folder marked "OLD. DON'T OPEN", which we all know is code for old vacation photos with an ex, and the only reason this set is still around is because I look particularly fit and that was a time I had Good Hair. So, I had the best intentions. Get in, get out. Edit. Except, I had to scroll through images of past field trips, vacations, my wedding, my engagement, and still further into the way-back machine where the grad school and undergrad images lived. 

There were a number of bad hair-cuts to ruminate over.

As I was scrolling through these mostly embarrassing photos (that spring I only took flower pictures from above? Oiy.), I noted that there was a disproportionate number of pictures of brown signs. You know, those brown parks signs. Not exactly riveting imagery, but 2007 me clearly wanted to remember that I saw the Big Bend National Park sign and it was necessary to stand by it and cheese it up.  In true Baader-Meinholf Phenomenon fashion I was noticing public lands and markers from public lands in all my images. The Windley Key State Park sign, scroll scroll scroll, the Ice Age Trail markers, scroll, the Boat Launch sign at the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park....they were everywhere.

 Evidence.

Evidence.

I got engaged on Longs Peak in RMNP, married on the rim of the Grand Canyon in GCNP, and vacationed and honeymooned in national parks, preserves, state parks, and BLM land. All my geology field courses were in national and state parks, and even marine sanctuaries. Images aside, my cooler is covered in park stickers; and a shadow box in my hallway is full of pins from all the parks and trails my husband and I have visited together. I obviously love and utilize these public spaces. Intellectually I knew I used public lands both professionally and personally, but it really hit me just how important these lands are to me.

This apparent love affair needed an outlet. Some kind of project. 

Step 1: close all OLD FILES folders and rejoice that I now have a much more refined taste in hiking backpacks and men.

Step 2: Google all the parks I went to. Look at the maps. Because I love maps.

Step 3: Notice that I have at least 4,000 more Colorado pictures than Oklahoma pictures. I do not live in Colorado. Pout a little.

Step 4: Check calendar. No Colorado trips soon. 

Step 5: Google all public lands in Oklahoma. Get overwhelmed. Close computer.

Step 6: Pick a wildlife refuge to visit to start an Okie photo project.

 Deep Creek BLM Recreation Area, Colorado

Deep Creek BLM Recreation Area, Colorado


Oklahoma

My affection for the public lands of the west and the Rocky mountains is pretty evident with how many photo albums I have from those various trips. Despite having lived here for 4 years now, there is a conspicuous lack of Oklahoma imagery. Since I'm not much of a fisher or boater, I tend to stay away from the lakes (Also, alligator snapping turtles live here, guys. Guys. No.) and the same goes for the acreage that's set aside for hunting and wildlife management. I'm not much of a coyote hunter. Though, I could probably be convinced to go on a hog hunt because those things are terrifying, destructive, and invasive. Screw those things.

It's time to appreciate the land in my backyard. With the goal of trying to understand public land use in Oklahoma, I've decided to tackle some of my questions about the tiny swaths of green on the state map of Oklahoma, and the large patches of green to the south. Why was this acreage set aside for public use in the first place? What is the history of that land? How is it being managed, and for who? What are the current threats to that public acreage? These are the questions that I plan on exploring this coming year as I explore and visit Oklahoma's State Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management acreage, Army Corp of Engineers land, and more.

I plan on visiting as many sites as my schedule allows and on writing a short piece about each excursion. When it's all said and done I would like to have a set of images from Oklahoma's varied public lands that hopefully illustrate and answer my questions that I outlined above.

Wish me luck. We have a lot of poison ivy and wild hogs.

 Lookout Lake, Osage Hills State Park, Oklahoma

Lookout Lake, Osage Hills State Park, Oklahoma