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Seven State Parks Slated for Closure to Remain Open
By Lindsay Vidrine
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Lindsay Vidrine
(OKLAHOMA CITY) – Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department (OTRD) announced seven state parks would be closed because of budget cuts. Since then, agreements have been reached with local entities and tribal governments to operate each of the parks.
Two of the seven state parks were owned wholly by the State of Oklahoma; Heavener Runestone and Boggy Depot. The City of Heavener has already assumed operation of Heavener Runestone State Park, while the Chickasaw Nation will begin managing Boggy Depot State Park on August 16th. The Choctaw Nation will now oversee the cemetery at Boggy Depot where former Choctaw Chief Allen Wright is buried. The final land transfer for these two properties requires legislative approval, which is anticipated next session.
The remaining five parks were leased by the Tourism Department. Beaver Dunes State Park is owned by Pioneer Parks and is now operated jointly by the City of Beaver and Pioneer Parks. Likewise, the City of Sallisaw owns Brushy Lake State Park and will now manage it; Lake Eucha State Park is owned by the City of Tulsa, who will operate it beginning August 16th; Adair State Park is owned by the City of Stilwell and will be operated by Adair County beginning September 15th. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns Wah-Sha-She State Park; it will be operated by the Osage Nation after September 31st.
The negative impact of this year’s budget cuts and the resulting closure of seven state parks have been mitigated in part, because the public and private entities that owned five of the parks have chosen to step up and operate them locally. Remedy for the two parks owned by the State was found when the City of Heavener and the Chickasaw Nation offered to assume those operations. All seven parks will remain open to the public for recreation.
“On behalf of the State of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation, I want to extend our gratitude to the new operators of these properties for their willingness to take on this responsibility for the benefit of our citizenry,” said Deby Snodgrass, executive director of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. “Since the moment the closures were announced, this agency has endeavored to ensure these properties and the dedicated state employees working in them, were protected. Not a single employee was laid off; each one was offered the same position and the same salary at another state park where we had an opening and all but two were transferred to a park less than thirty miles away.”
From the start, OTRD worked with Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA), to ensure the affected employees did not lose their jobs. However, OPEA filed for a temporary injunction in an attempt to stop the employee transfers. OPEA maintains that, because these parks are closing, the employees should have lost their jobs and been paid severance benefits. At the 1:30 hearing today, Oklahoma County District Judge Bryan Dixon denied OPEA’s request for the injunction.
“Despite significant budget cuts, we developed a fiscally responsible plan that allowed us to save the state $700,000, while keeping the parks open to the public under new management and employees on the job at other parks,” Snodgrass said. “We are pleased Judge Dixon denied the injunction sought by the Oklahoma Public Employees Association. OPEA’s litigation threatens our cost-saving plan and the ability of the Tourism Department to keep parks open and employees on staff. Every dollar we have to spend defending against a lawsuit is a dollar that can’t go to support tourism and recreation in Oklahoma.”
The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department (OTRD) is working to advance the exceptional quality of life in Oklahoma by preserving, maintaining, and promoting our natural assets and cultural richness. The department is the steward of the state park system and also promotes Oklahoma as a travel destination through many award-winning programs. To learn more about Oklahoma’s unique events and attractions, please visit www.TravelOK.com or follow us at Facebook.com/TravelOK and Twitter.com/OklahomaTourism.