Mission Park plays host to Earth Day celebration

Apr. 22—An Earth Day celebration at Mission Park last weekend had locals taking in the scenic view, while also learning about science.

Participants could walk around the trail and stop at various booths that featured science-related information and activities, such as a benthic macroinvertebrate table with living creatures from the Town Branch Creek and a stream erosion trailer.

The creation of the park has been a collaboration with that sentiment ringing true, as the event also included organizations showing off the features of the area. Among the participants were the Grand River Dam Authority, GRDA Police, GRDA Ecosystem and Watershed Management Department, Save The Illinois River, Illinois River Watershed Partnership, the city of Tahlequah, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Tahlequah Parks and Recreation Department.

Jeri Fleming, of the GRDA Ecosystems and Watershed Management Department, helped with the event at Second and Mission Street. Fleming said participants were just trying to bring awareness to Mission Park.

"The Missions Park Project was a group of citizens who saw that this property was for sale and was able to get some grant fundings to buy it, and then donated it to the city," Fleming said. "What the city hopes to do with it is to have it not be your traditional mowed park with playground equipment, but a more natural experience for people."

This was the first Earth Day celebration at the park, and Fleming anticipates continuing it for years to come.

Craig Clifford, theTahlequah Mission Park Inc. president, said he hoped those in attendance could appreciate the value of nature. Clifford's favorite part was the benthic macroinvertebrate table, which allowed individuals to get a closeup look at water life in an area that does not have a body of water.

Elizabeth Burba and Chris Burba, both science professors at Northeastern State University, brought their family so they could learn to appreciate nature.

"Early exposure is really influential to getting kids comfortable in nature and just interacting with plants and wildlife, and it helps form their habits when they're young that grow with them as they get older. Especially with Mission Park being new, it's also great for the community that they've set this land aside to have a green space," Elizabeth Burba said.

Jim, Trinity, and Ivia Napier all enjoyed the educational aspect, with Trinity being the first person to plant a native plant at the event. Trinity said she recommends others check it out.

"I think it's a really good opportunity to see what they're doing, and maybe those people could find interest in it and help," Trinity said.

Parks and Recreation Superintendent Brian Speake said the celebration helped showcase the features of Mission Park, such as the concrete trail.

"We're just wanting to get more recognition for what's here," Speake said. "It's off the beaten path. Pretty much the people who live in these neighborhoods are the people who know about it because I'm having to give directions for people to get back here."