Martin Park Nature Center maintains surge of visitors despite COVID-19

In northwest Oklahoma City, just south of the Kilpatrick Turnpike and west of Mercy Hospital, lies 140 acres devoted to woodlands and wildlife. Staff at Martin Park Nature Center, a long-standing fixture on Memorial Road, are celebrating the park’s 47th anniversary in Oklahoma City this month.

The park boasts four hiking trails, a watchtower, a bird observation wall, a picnic area, a playground and an interactive learning center, where children and adults can learn about Oklahoma’s biodiversity. Armadillos, birds, beavers, coyotes, deer, foxes, opossum, owls, rabbits, racoons, skunks, squirrels, turtles and more live on the grounds.

Martin Park Nature Center includes four hiking trails, a watchtower, a bird observation wall, a picnic area, a playground and an interactive learning center.

William Hagenbuck, head naturalist at Martin Park Nature Center, said the most popular trail is the “Courage Trail,” the collaborative outcome of the park’s partnership with local nonprofit Wilderness Matters and the Integris Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Hospital in 2015.

“It’s a half-mile loop that allows visitors to experience the pond, the forest and the open meadows in the park,” Hagenbuck said. “You can see a variety of different habitat in different areas and different habitat. It’s a good hike for families with their kids or for senior citizens who want to be out and enjoy nature but can’t travel too far.”

Martin Park Nature Center, just south of the Kilpatrick Turnpike and west of Mercy Hospital in far northwest Oklahoma City, has been in operation for 47 years.

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The wheelchair-accessible Courage Trail usually takes visitors about 30 minutes, the naturalist said, but a total hike of all the park’s trails can take up to four hours.

“The park allows people, whether local or national, to come through and experience nature and wildlife in an urban setting,” Hagenbuck said. “It’s amazing for mental health to just get to be outdoors right here in Oklahoma City.”

Martin Nature Park visits sheltered during peak of COVID pandemic

Open since May 10, 1975, Martin Park Nature Center is named after Dr. Joseph Thomas Martin, who was widely credited with leading Oklahoma City through the 1918 influenza epidemic. Upon retirement, Martin served on the city’s park board for two decades.

Martin Park Nature Center is pictured on a cloudy day in Oklahoma City.

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When the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the nation in March 2020, most parks shut down briefly during the spring. Martin Park did, too, before reopening during the summer with updated coronavirus guidelines and restrictions.

Despite the shutdown, year-end reports showed visitation nearly tripled at Martin Park in 2020, with about 209,000 visitors compared to 2019’s 88,000.

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