Norman is blessed with a jewel of a little nature park that is easily accessed by all. Located at the corner of Rock Creek Road and 12 Ave. NE, Sutton Wilderness is operated as a city park by the City of Norman, on a long-term lease from the State of Oklahoma. The property was once a part of the vast grounds of Central State Hospital. Some older Normanites still call the place “Hospital Lake”. It’s named after University of Oklahoma zoology professor George Miksch Sutton. Sutton was a renowned ornithologist, bird artist, author and educator. The old hospital grounds were one of his local haunts, so it’s appropriate to be named for him.
Sutton is a great place to take a walk. It’s shaded when the weather is hot and sheltered when the cold north wind blows. A soft trail winds clockwise around the lake and is about 1.3 miles in length. We generally take a few forays off the trail, so it’s a great place to get in a morning walk and enjoy nature.
There are a lot of native plant species to be enjoyed and at times some good birding. I generally don’t find the place extremely birdy, but at times during migration it can be. A walk this morning provided a new bird for me in Sutton, a Spotted Towhee. We also saw a couple of Orange-crowned Warblers as well as the regulars. More than 200 species have been recorded here. My rare Sutton bird is a Harris’s Hawk a few years ago. I wouldn’t consider it a destination birding spot unless there are recent reports of some migrants, but it’s always a pleasant visit.
Spring and fall provide lots of wildflowers. This morning a yellow sea of blooming broomweed covered the open spots in the timber. Mixed in were wild asters, gay feather, milkweed and lots of brilliant gold Stiff Sunflowers. The Bois ‘d arc trees have a bumper crop of Osage Oranges. The trees are full and the ground is littered with them. Brilliant red berries decorated many of the trees and provide food for the birds.
If you live nearby, you should walk the Sutton trail a few times a year. If you’re visiting Norman, it’s a great escape from a business meeting or family function. Someone recently asked me my favorite location for nature photography and I responded “Where I am.” Nature is always nearby for those who take time to notice. I bet most every town in Oklahoma has something a little like Sutton Wilderness.