Residents of large coastal cities may be surprised to learn that the newest—and potentially one of the greatest—parks in America is in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Set to open on September 8, the $465 million Gathering Place is the largest public park ever built with private funds, created to revitalize a city.
The 66-acre park transformed a forgettable section of land overlooking the Arkansas River into a whimsical dreamscape with countless things to do. Multiple playgrounds and more than 160 play structures include huge climbing towers, animal-shaped slides, play gardens, and water areas. Suspension bridges carry children from tower to tower, and a “Skywalk Forest” uses nets to create floating pathways 20 feet above the ground.
Younger children can enjoy tiny fairy houses and padded play areas with low-level climbing features. A sensory garden incorporates hands-on elements—think mirrors, a giant spinning boulder, and amplified voice features—to invoke wonder and surprise. The list of innovative, creative play features goes on and on; park designers built a reading tree, a large grassy area for picnics, and a “water mountain” complete with tunnels, dams, and streams.
It’s a park lover’s dream made into reality, with something for everyone. Teens can play on a skate park built with both beginners and pros in mind, and the southernmost section of the park offers basketball, volleyball, soccer, and hockey courts—all equipped with night lighting. The park was also designed to accommodate guests with disabilities, including two desensitization spaces for children on the autism spectrum.
Two buildings anchor the services available. Williams Lodge offers restrooms, a cafe, a two-story fireplace, indoor lounge spaces, and educational activity rooms. The ONEOK Boathouse lets you check out paddle boats, kayaks, and canoes by day and a destination-restaurant called the Boathouse for elegant evening dining.
Designed by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh—creator of Brooklyn Bridge Park in NYC and Maggie Daley Park in Chicago—the Gathering Place was made possible in large part by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and philanthropic billionaire George Kaiser. Born in Tulsa, Mr. Kaiser has an estimated net worth of $7.9 billion, and according to the New York Times, has given away more than $1 billion over the past decade.
The George Kaiser Family Foundation also helped to raise a $100 million endowment for the park’s maintenance, which will be managed by the Tulsa’s River Parks Authority. See more photos below, and head over here if you’d like to plan a visit.