The Norman Transcript

May 12, 2013

Urban wilderness connects people with nature

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Spring wildflowers are blooming at Sutton Urban Wilderness Park, located north of Robinson Street on 12th Avenue Northeast. The park has more than 200 acres of natural habitat including wetlands, prairie and woodlands.

Blue-eyed grass is blooming now, its delicate purple petals with sunny yellow centers dotting the prairie and woodland landscapes. A native Oklahoma wildflower, blue-eyed grass is the tiny, wild cousin of the iris, a popular cultivated Oklahoma plant also in high bloom right now.

Artists, families hiking or fishing, runners, dog walkers and bird watchers are a few of the people who enjoy trekking the winding trails at Sutton Wilderness on a daily basis.

Sutton Lake helps support a wide diversity of wildlife.

“The Sutton Wilderness is a wildlife refuge,” said Judith Wilkins, who serves on the park’s advisory committee. “George Sutton was a professor at OU, and he would visit Sutton Wilderness and would create a lot of his renowned artwork there and study the wildlife there, as well.”

A dry creekbed that runs from Sutton Wilderness to the Little River is used by waterfowls and other nesting birds and small mammals as a corridor, Wilkins said.

“There are a lot of different environments, and since there’s a variety of habitats, we have a variety of wildlife,” said Roberta Pailes, who serves on the park’s advisory board. “We have good records on this because Dr. Sutton kept records on every bird he ever saw out there.”

Pailes said BioBlitz inventoried the wildlife at the wilderness park in 2001. Pailes is a former educator at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History.

“When people go out there, if you run through it, you may not see all the wildlife,” Pailes said. “If we had one wish, it would be that people would slow down and see the wildlife.”

Pailes said it also is important for people to keep dogs on leashes to protect local wildlife.

Plentiful freshwater mussels in Sutton Lake serve as food for raccoons and muskrats, according to Bill Ulch, Norman parks superintendent.

“There are all kinds of water fowl there and we have deer, a couple of road runners and cotton tail rabbits,” Ulch said. “It’s a large bird habitat. George M. Sutton identified over a hundred species of birds there.”

Families often enjoy fishing in Sutton Lake.

“There’s bass in there, black bass, channel cat, perch, sunfish and bluegill,” Ulch said. “The wildlife department restocks it for us from time to time.”

When visiting the wilderness park, it is important to preserve the natural beauty of the habitat. Ulch said visitors should not remove plants or rocks and should avoid littering.

“We want to keep it clean,” Ulch said. “Please carry your trash out with you when you leave.”

Flora and fauna abound and serve as inspiration for artists and writers. Bird watchers or amateur naturalists hoping to identify wildflowers and other native species of plants will find plenty to study.

“We have cleared a lot of cedars in that area and are reclaiming our prairie,” Ulch said. “Those are native cedars out there, but they were taking over.”

Through the years, Norman’s scout troops have enjoyed visiting the park and often schedule days to pick up trash. Located next to the Frisbee golf course, dog park and near Griffin Park and its soccer fields, the Sutton Wilderness is in a family friendly area familiar to many Norman residents.

Joy Hampton