Tinker ‘greenway’ trail system celebrates two decades of life

  • Published
  • By Mike W. Ray
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Nestled amid the residential and industrial development of Tinker Air Force Base, like an oasis in a desert, is a back-to-nature greenbelt that recently marked its 20th anniversary.

Construction on the greenbelt began in October 1991, when 110 acres of undeveloped base property were set aside for conservation and recreation. The project has grown by 36 percent over the past two decades, to 150 acres today.

The greenbelt comprises three fenced reserves on the west side of the base that extend from the east side of the Mitchell Heights housing addition southeast to the vicinity of Fam Camp. These areas consist of woodlands, meadows, creeks, wetlands, and some mowed, park-like areas.

A key feature of the greenbelt is a serpentine, 3.3-mile, asphalt, multi-use trail designed for walking, jogging, biking, rollerskating, rollerblading and skateboarding; linked to it is a secondary, gravel, two-thirds-mile walking trail. The greenway trails are interconnected with another four and a half miles of walking/jogging trails that snake around throughout the base.

Eleven ponds are located in the greenway, providing flood control, fish and wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation. Several are smaller reservoirs but five are large enough to support fish, including trout, channel catfish, bass and bluegill. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation typically provides several hundred "grow-out" channel cat fingerlings each year, said Raymond Moody, Natural Resources Biologist, 72nd ABW Civil Engineer Directorate. Last year, for example, the Fam Camp ponds were stocked with 600 channel catfish.

Besides providing solitude, the greenbelt is an urban sanctuary that supports more than 280 species of wildlife, said John Krupovage, Natural Resources Manager in the 72nd Civil Engineering Directorate. The animals include deer, squirrels, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, owls, scissor-tail flycatchers, painting buntings, bobwhite quail, snakes, small mammals, and lizards such as the imperiled Texas horned lizard (a/k/a horned toad), he said.

"Balancing future mission growth while preserving our urban greenways is essential to the long-term sustainability of this world-class installation and community," said Col. Bob LaBrutta, 72nd Air Base Wing commander.

Virtually the entire greenway project has been a restoration effort, said Mr. Krupovage, who came to Tinker 25 years ago. "With a little patience and selective management, urban greenspaces can grow into something special." Many trees that were not even present in the early 1990s are now approaching 25 to 40 feet tall, he said.

"We try to restore areas to their pre-settlement conditions." Invasive, non-native species are removed and replaced with native plants such as burr oak, cottonwood, dogwood, ash, redbud and sumac; grasses such as bluestem and grama; and forbs such as Maximilian sunflower and Indian blanket, he said. "It behooves us to keep a percentage of the base natural."

The goal is "to make the entire greenway a healthier system," he said. The proper flora is needed not just to provide forage and structure for the animals, but also to provide food for insects that are eaten by wildlife that live in the greenway. "Each element in the food chain supports another," emphasized Mr. Krupovage, who received a master's degree in wildlife science from New Mexico State University.

Other benefits of the trees in the greenbelt are that they suppress the urban noise, block the perpetual Oklahoma wind, and obstruct the sight of buildings such as houses, apartments and hangars on base.

Tinker's greenbelt was one of the first, if not the very first, to be developed at a Department of Defense installation. "Even today, I am not aware of other bases doing this type of restoration in such an urban industrial setting," Mr. Krupovage said. "That is what makes this system rather unique."

Natural resources staff, along with base- and command-level support, have made this happen.

The greenway "contributes significantly to the base goal of developing and caring for our Airmen," Mr. Krupovage asserted. These natural green spaces play a vital role on this industrialized, urbanized installation. By building a healthy, native urban ecosystem, we strengthen our warfighter and the surrounding community by enhancing the base's standard of living, while at the same time demonstrating responsible stewardship of our natural world, he concluded.