A Place to Gather:
What would you call a place with 20,000 tons of rock, paved trails that wander between themed play areas, a mini-beach, several restaurants, a gallery exhibition space, and so much more spread out over 66 acres? Sure it’s a park, but it is so much more. It’s the Gathering Place in Tulsa, OK. It’s hard to wrap your mind around everything the Gathering Place has to offer without making several visits. The landscaping is gorgeous with native plants and all that rock dividing the playground areas into seven different themes and age-specific areas. There is even a children’s museum, Discovery Lab, in the southeast corner of the park. One of the most unusual features is the Cabinet of Wonder, a collection of curiosities curated by artist Mark Dion.
The restaurants combine to offer sophisticated indoor spaces with upscale menu choices, casual counter pickup options in the lodge, and outdoor seating areas with spectacular views and menu choices that will appeal to family groups. The gelato offered in the lodge has to be one of the best bargain treats in Tulsa, unfortunately often with a line to match. Tip: Don’t come hangry. Stop for that break before it gets that bad.
A Special Treat:
I was fortunate to be invited to a welcoming banquet lunch at the Vista at the Boathouse restaurant, and we were all impressed by the meals, the atmosphere, and the warm, welcoming community. The team at the Gathering Place worked with the mayor’s office to include guests from around Tulsa who were collaborating on projects from tourism to accessible sports initiatives. This showed how the commitment to accessibility and inclusion is city-wide, making Tulsa sound like a great place to live for all.
Shameless brag here, at the end of lunch Tulsa councilman Jayme Fowler presented me with a certificate proclaiming the day Anna Miller Lives in Tulsa Day!
We then met with members of the press and were treated to a personal tour of the Gathering Place grounds.
The Gathering Place was designed with accessibility for all in mind. The playground features, the lodges, the restaurants, the boathouse, the educational exhibits, and all the connecting paved pathways are wheelchair accessible. Some activities do require transferring of course, like the imaginative slides, canoes, and pedal boats. There are placard parking spaces reserved but this is an extremely popular location and the closest parking fills quickly during busy times. I suggest you arrive early or visit after the heaviest crowds have left. There is remote parking available and space at the Discovery Lab, but there is so much to do that you will hate to waste too much energy making the trek. This park really delivers on accessibility, making it a Gathering Place for all. We think about it often. All parks should be like this.
We returned to the gathering place a month later for another special activity. During my tour, I learned that one of the Gathering Place features is the Reading Tree. The reading tree was inspired by the oldest and largest cottonwood tree at the Gathering Place, and works to unite people around the love of reading. Each week in the Spring and Fall they feature weekly Story Time at the Reading Tree, and guests from the local community come and volunteer by reading to kids. I was so excited to learn about this program, as I am a HUGE fan of reading and literacy programs. When I was little, it was hard to pull me away from any library or bookstore storytime. I was even more surprised when they told me I could come and be a reader at the park!
While our dates back in Tulsa didn’t align with a Story Time, we were returning just in time for a special Animal Encounter program inside the ONEOK Boathouse. This program was tied to the Photo Ark National Geographic photography exhibit that was on display at the Gathering Place. What a small world, I had the opportunity to hear the artist behind the Photo Ark speak in Washington, DC. So the idea of getting to read books about animals in his exhibit sounded perfect. While I was a little bit nervous to read to all the kids— I wanted to make sure they were all having a good time— it was an amazing experience that I would be happy to repeat again in the future.
After I finished my reading sessions, I got to explore the hands-on Animal Encounter. So cool! The entire exhibit was easily accessible, as you would expect from a park so committed to being accessible to all. Needless to say, this is one of our favorite places in Tulsa.