Students explore Tahlequah’s hidden outdoor places

Garrett Cochran, Mannford junior, and Sara Ryals, Keys junior, standing on Sparrow Hawk cliff. Sparrow Hawk is a wildlife management area and requires a hunting, fishing or wildlife conservation passport.

Tahlequah provides multiple opportunities for students to spend time outside. Tenkiller Ferry Lake and the Illinois River are major tourist attractions. However, there are also lesser-known places students visit to get outside. 

Sparrow Hawk Wildlife Management Area is a 10-minute drive from campus and provides students a place to go hunting and hiking. The WMA features a 3.8 mile trail which leads to a set of cliffs that overlook the Illinois River. The drive provides easy access to the area. 

“I enjoy getting to escape from all the stress, city lights and everything that is happening in town,” said Taylor Lloyd, Ardmore junior. “I like being able to come out to Sparrow Hawk, a short distance away from campus, and immerse myself in what God has created. Not just on top of the cliff, but also the journey up.”

Sparrow Hawk is managed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. A hunting, fishing or a wildlife conservation passport is required to enter. Licenses can be purchased at Walmart or on the Oklahoma Wildlife Department’s website. To get to Sparrow Hawk, drive one mile east on U.S. Hwy 62, three miles north on State Hwy 10 then 0.3 miles east on E0730 road. 

“I like going to the Boy Scout Hole because it is a good place to relax,” said Garrett Tune, Stilwell freshman. “It gives me a good place to go fishing for smallmouth and is very peaceful.” 

Boy Scout Hole is a river access area on Barren Fork Creek. The area is popular for fishing and swimming. The area is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is open to hunting. Regulations can be found on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website. To get to Boy Scout Hole, turn right by Speedy's convenience store, then continue up the road to the fire department.  The road to Boy Scout Hole is the first paved road on right.

For Tune, time outside is more than being able to fish and relax. He is living out lessons taught to him in the past. 

“I like spending time in the outdoors because I was raised in the outdoors, and it also brings back memories of my grandpa,” said Tune. “He taught me how to do just about every outdoor activity such as, gardening, hiking, fishing and just soaking in the nature.” 

The J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve is owned by The Nature Conservancy. It is located northeast of Tahlequah near Combs Bridge. For Chad Stangl, health and kinesiology instructor, it is important to have places like the Nickel Preserve. 

“If you look at the statistics today, we are facing a health crisis with our sedentary lifestyle,” said Stangl. “Those are some reasons why it is important to have places to get outdoors. You have to have an opportunity and a place to perform healthy leisure skills free from technology. They provide places for free or low cost entertainment.”

The Nickel Preserve offers three hiking trails. Two of the trails are 1.5 miles and are located at the headquarters building. The other trail is a short hike and features a wetlands pond. The preserve is also home to a herd of elk that can be found when exploring the area. The Nature Conservancy asks visitors to stay on the foot paths. 

Students are provided opportunities other than physical health through public areas. If classes or life are stressful, it is possible to find relief. Taking a hike, going fishing or spending time in hammocks are stress relieving activities.

“For me, being outside has a ton of benefits,” said Stangl. “It is psychological and social benefits. I have seen studies that show doing an activity someone likes to do has the same effects as antidepressants and anxiety medications. I feel a connectedness to the natural world, so I’d say there is even some spiritual health benefits there.”

 

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