Construction of Grace K. Cousins Park in south Tulsa is on hold again, and again, the Cousins family is frustrated.
“I just think this is a definite advantage to the city, in terms of leisure time, in terms of teaching Tulsa’s history, in terms of bringing in tourist money, “ said Darlene (Cousins) Ash-Allen. “Those three things seem very important to me.”
They were certainly important to her deceased younger sister, Vicki Cousins Shivel, who near the end of her life worked diligently to get the park built in honor of her mother.
A childhood illness kept Vicki Cousins confined to her bed for six months, Ash-Allen said, and Grace Cousins was there every moment to care for her.
“That just developed a relationship that was just so dear that Vicki was just determined to have this honor for her mother,” Ash-Allen said.
The latest reason for delaying the project is an old reason: the possible construction of a south Tulsa bridge over the Arkansas River.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation last month confirmed that it is exploring the possibility of building a bridge.
“Feasibility studies have not been completed in order to gather input from regional stakeholders and the public,” said Sheila Curley, spokeswoman for the Creek Nation on the bridge project. “It is way too early in the process to speculate if the bridge will be built or where it would be constructed.”
Parks Director Anna America said Friday she is grateful for the donation of land the Cousins family made to establish the park and that the city is committed to building it. But until city officials know whether — and to what extent — the bridge will intrude on the park property, it is best to hold off on design and construction.
“You want what happens there to make sense with wherever the road is (and) the bridge is,” she said.
The city has allocated about $2.2 million for the park, including nearly $2 million approved by voters in the Improve Our Tulsa sales tax package.
“We will build a nice park there, I hope sooner rather than later,” America said.
Cousins Park has long been considered a potential landing spot for a south Tulsa bridge. In October 2012 — just months after the Cousins family gathered in Tulsa to kick off a private fundraising campaign for the project — design work on the park was put on hold because the city of Bixby was considering building a toll bridge across the river.
In the summer of 2013, city officials announced that construction of Phase 1 of the project, a gateway plaza and parking area, had begun. Six years later, the work has yet to be done because of scheduling conflicts with the county, which is providing the labor.
“I would love to see it come to fruition as it was originally demonstrated by Vicki and her family of having the village atmosphere where kids could come as an educational opportunity,” said John Shivel, Vicki Cousins’ husband.
The Cousins family donated 10 acres at the southwest corner of 121st and Yale to the city Park and Recreation Department in 1998, with the stipulation that it remain a conservation area and that the family be involved in its design.
The city later bought 35 acres bounded by 121st Street, Yale Avenue and the Arkansas River for $950,000 with plans to transform the entire site into a park.
Dick Sherry served on the Cousins Park Committee that came up with a vision for the park in 2011.
“That’s when we came up with the idea of the pioneer farm and the nature center — doing both interpretation of the human history and the natural history of the area,” Sherry said.
Conceptual plans for the park call for a combination nature center, nature preserve and pioneer park operated with assistance from the Oxley Nature Center Association.
A farmhouse, barn, corral, orchard and schoolhouse would be constructed and could be used for conducting classes.
That all sounds just fantastic to Ash-Allen.
“There was to be a lot of flowering plants so that people could walk and muse and dream and be calm,” she said.
That won’t happen if a bridge is built, Shivel said.
“The idea of having a berm for the bridge (there), or even the traffic … that would basically destroy any ambience that would go with the park.”