PONCA CITY, Okla. (KFOR) – Voyle Graham walks downstream of the Lake Ponca dam on a trail system cut through what used to be the city nursery a century ago.
“I’m in my happy place,” he smiles.
As a young high school science teacher, he gave his students extra credit for helping him cut trails through the forest.
“They got bonus points if they’d come out with equipment,” he recalls.
Along the way he taught them all kinds of things about how early chuckwagon cooks used horse tails to scour their cast iron pots.
He points out, “So this plant also has the name Scouring Rushes.”
Or how to tell Virginia Creeper from Poison Ivy.
“Leaves of five, let it thrive,” he tells us. “Leaves of three, time to flee.”
He and his young crews kept the trails clear for 20 years.
Voyle even planted 130 trees when an absent-minded bulldozer crew mistakenly cleared two acres of this preserve.
“I took it on myself to re-forest it,” he states.
Graham assumed his trails were in good shape until he tried to walk them again in March.
What he found were dozens of downed tree limbs and brush.
“I didn’t like it at all,” he chuckles. “I was very upset.”
So he called the city parks department and got permission to start work.
Graham came a least one day every week with axe and chainsaw in hand.
“If I don’t like it, I get rid of it,” he says.
In this his 30th trip to these trails, he’s ready to show off the system again, even clearing the last of the brush on this morning and a newly fallen cottonwood branch.
“It wasn’t there the last time I cleaned this place up!”
His own limbs are a little bowed these days thanks to spinal stenosis, but they’re still strong.
“I’m 76 and still having fun,” he smiles.
The Ponca Nature Center is tamed enough for him to walk through again, and, maybe, though he jokes about it, ready for another name.
“I think it ought to be named the Voyle Graham Nature Center,” he laughs.
The Nature Center features two to three miles of trails and is located near the Lake Ponca Campground.