“This department is essential to creating a happy city. It is here to serve people.” – Pat Murphy
Robert Ray “Pat” Murphy grew up on a farm near Dover, Oklahoma and after two years of business college in Oklahoma City, he joined the Navy. Later he was hired as the project manager for the parks department. This was in 1935 during the Great Depression and funding was scarcely available for parks and recreation. Fortunately for Oklahoma City, the parks director, Donald Gordon, and Murphy were imaginative visionaries and they found ways to continue developing and improving parks. Murphy said, “We started thinking of things we could have people do. Our primary concern then was putting people to work.” As project manager, Murphy used federal assistance like the WPA to clear and landscape parks and build structures like picnic pavilions, sidewalks, and bridges. Murphy prioritized the Lincoln Park Zoo and this era saw the construction of the bath house that now serves as a museum, the amphitheater, and Monkey Island. “We were working on what was then a new theory – have one way in and one way out, bringing people to all the exhibits.”
In 1942 Gordon resigned and Murphy became interim director. He stayed for 34 years. At various times during his career, Murphy was director of parks, the zoo, the airports, and the lakes. No idea was too big and even up to his retirement he was thinking of fantastic ideas like creating a large park with a lake downtown and converting the east side landfill into a mountain for hang gliding, skiing and sledding.
The land for this park was originally part of the homestead of James E. Ware, acquired by the city water department during the construction of Lake Hefner, and later donated to the parks department. If you follow the paved Bert Cooper Trail past the play area to the bridge, you will see Bluff Creek. It’s hard to imagine, but that little stream is the source of nearby Lake Hefner. You can see more of Bluff Creek if you follow the sidewalk north to adjacent Bluff Creek Park and the Bluff Creek Trail. Another interesting parks department feature just across Meridian Ave is the H. B. Parsons Fish Hatchery, which manages the fish population in some city lakes.