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New 12,345-acre nature preserve will be convenient to Tulsa, OKC

A view over the Pearl Jackson Crosstimbers Preserve in Creek County.
Bailey Downs
The Nature Conservancy
A view over the Pearl Jackson Crosstimbers Preserve in Creek County.

A family’s donation of their 12,345-acre ranch in Creek County creates The Nature Conservancy's largest wildland preserve, conveniently located between the state’s major metropolitan centers.

The center of the new preserve, northwest of Sapulpa, is a mere 24 road miles from downtown Tulsa and a straightforward journey up Highway 44, a little over 90 miles from downtown Oklahoma City. Thus, the Pearl Jackson Crosstimbers Preserve is poised to become one of the Nature Conservancy’s more sought-after wilderness escapes.

It is the third-largest of the conservancy’s Oklahoma holdings. The nearly 40,000-acre Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Osage County is the crowned jewel of the Conservancy’s Oklahoma holdings, but compared to the Tallgrass and the 17,0000-acre J.T. Nickel Family Preservein Adair County, the Pearl Jackson Preserve is a stone’s throw from the state’s largest population centers.

However, preparing it for regular public traffic will take some time. Scouting and surveys are underway.

Hundreds of multi-colored dots filled the screen of land steward Matt Hagy’s phone as he stood along a dirt road near a three-sided equipment shed on the old ranch. Hagy is walking and documenting the place's wonders, unique geological features, wildlife hangouts, waterfalls, scenic viewpoints, ancient stands of trees, you name it. He’s covered over 100 miles and has many more to go.

“I’ve seen a lot of really cool areas,” he said.

A family donation

Long known locally as the Pearl Jackson Ranch, named after a family matriarch, preserve manager Jeanine Lackey said Jackson’s grandson Bob Jackson and his wife Andie took over operations in the 1980s.

Lackey said Jackson, an attorney in St. Louis, Mo., spent increasing time on the ranch as years passed and cared deeply for the ranch, which grazed cattle and hosted deer hunters. She said that eastern redcedar, a problem in much of Creek County, is rare on the ranch thanks to the regular use of prescribed fire. Some invasive Sericea lespedeza, an invasive woody weed, and Callery pear trees are issues in some spots. The new managers likely will convert some Bermudagrass pastures to native prairie grasses and wildflowers, she said.

“He loved it. He loved seeing the deer, turkey, bobcats, quail, all the birds, and the wildflowers, and so he decided he didn’t want to see it developed. He didn’t want it to become little acreages and ranchettes. He wanted it to stay the way it was,” she said.

Bob and Andie Jackson donated the ranch to the Conservancy to protect it from being divided and developed. Unfortunately, Bob died in February 2023, but paperwork finalized in November ensured his legacy, she said.

Lackey said the ranch preserves a critical piece of a historic ecoregion.

The crosstimbers, which pre-settlement likely covered some 20 million acres of a mosaic of upland deciduous forest, savanna, and tallgrass prairie, in transition between eastern forested regions and the Great Plains, are now cherished for their stands of ancient woodland.

She said that tree cores taken on the preserve by an Arkansas scientist already show some oaks on the property are 340 years old.

The Nature Conservancy is a worldwide nonprofit organization that combats climate change and biodiversity loss on the ground primarily through private donations. In Oklahoma, the Conservancy owns and manages more than 85,000 acres and has established nearly 11,000 acres in conservation easements, according to its 2023 annual report.

Pearl Jackson Crosstimbers preserve manager Jeanine Lackey.
Kelly J Bostian
Oklahoma Ecology Project
Pearl Jackson Crosstimbers preserve manager Jeanine Lackey.

Planning takes time

Lackey said the purchase of the land was seven years in the making. Planning trails, determining the level of public access, and establishing those trails through the 12,345 acres will take a few more years.

In the meantime, people should watch for organized public outings that will hit Oklahoma Nature Conservancy calendars on Facebook and Instagram.

Future public-use possibilities are up for discussion.

Hunting, as with most Conservancy properties, won’t play a prominent role in its future, according to Oklahoma Nature Conservancy spokesman Aaron Morvan. The organization is honoring existing hunting leases and may discuss limited archery hunts in the future, but it “likely won’t play a big role,” he said.

The Conservancy is contacting people in local communities and partners like Muscogee Nation, Tulsa River Parks Authority and Sand Springs Parks and Recreation about what is needed.

“Is there something missing in the community that you don’t have access to, and what can we provide and still work toward our mission of improved biodiversity and restoration?” Lackey asked.

“We’ve been talking about trails, we’ve been talking about a visitors center, we’ve been talking about a nature center, we’ve been talking about a community center, there’s talking about camping, there’s talking about ecology tours, and hikes and bird tours, and field days and demonstration plots for how we treat Sericea, how we do prescribed fires, and having demonstration days for conservation partners,” she said. “So, it’s a lot of suggestions right now, and ideas. And before the end of this summer, hopefully, we’ll have a vision, and then we’ll start to raise money around that vision.”

The Oklahoma Ecology Project is a nonprofit dedicated to in-depth reporting on Oklahoma’s conservation and environmental issues. Learn more atokecology.org

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