Earlier this spring, the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department announced that Adair State Park in Stilwell; Beaver Dunes in Beaver; Boggy Depot in Atoka; Brushy Lake in Sallisaw; Heavener Runestone in Heavener; Lake Eucha in Jay; and Wah- Sha-She in Copan will close on Aug. 15.
The good news is that the 10 employees whose jobs are affected by these closings will be transferred, and not laid off, and that department officials are looking to partner with local communities, schools and tribal leaders to keep the parks viable. The bad news is that it has come to this.
Most Oklahomans recognize that budget cuts are necessary. Where we disagree is often about which budgets to cut, and how sharply. Some will undoubtedly say that the $700,000 the closing of these seven state parks will save is not enough; others are even now painting protest signs. Unfortunate as it is, in tough economic times we all have to give up something.
So heres where you come in, Oklahoma. If the closing of these state parks seems unfortunate to you, take some time between now and when school starts back in the fall and visit them. Take a weekend and take the family up to the Strawberry Festival in Stilwell, part of which is held in Adair State Park. Drive to Heavener to see the Runestone and camp in nearby Wister State Park, which is not closing. Teach the kids how to fish at Wah- Sha-She and Hulah Lake. Grab a dune buggy and visit Beaver Dunes.
No doubt youve heard someone complain that theres nothing to do in Oklahoma. Perhaps your children have uttered this lament; perhaps you have. This is absolutely incorrect, and the best part is that visiting state parks is cheaper than, say, jetting off to St. Kitts for a week or hauling the family down to Orlando, Fla.
The truth is that there is as much to do in these seven parks that are closing not to mention the nearly three dozen that are not as on any bank-breaking trip, and you dont even have to get felt up by an angry-looking TSA agent.
Get to know Oklahoma, because its worth getting to know. Natural beauty is high on the states list of abundant assets, but too few of us especially us city-dwellers have any idea where to find it. Get to know Oklahoma so your children will know it. Otherwise, theyll grow up with little appreciation for where theyve come from, and they will leave.
For those of us who have great memories of visiting state parks as children, the news of the closings came as a blow. It was heartening to hear that Carl Albert State College has offered to operate the Heavener Runestone park after July 1. Heres hoping other solutions will present themselves.
Its unfortunate these parks must close. Perhaps it is a necessity, as the Tourism and Recreation Department contends, in order to keep the entire parks system viable. But the way to keep it from happening again is to make sure our state parks get used. So get on the road, Oklahoma. The clock is ticking.
Nathan Gunter is an Oklahoma City-based writer.