Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

The Five Most Expensive State Parks in Oklahoma

Bobby Acree / Flickr

Beavers Bend State Park near Broken Bow.

Oklahoma recently trimmed seven state parks from its roster, bringing the total down to 35 from 42. In the end, cities and American Indian tribes assumed control of all seven parks.

The parks slated for closure had poor attendance and some duplicated activities of other nearby — and more popular — state parks. Parks officials said the move would save taxpayers $700,000 a year.

In light of all the parks talk, StateImpact Oklahoma dug into the data to see what parks taxpayers were paying the most for.

The state spent about $18.8 million on state parks in 2011, data show. More than half that funding went to just five state parks. Hit the jump to read more about Oklahoma’s five most expensive state parks.

5. Lake Thunderbird State Park 2011 Operating Cost: $1.2 million

LLudo / Flickr

Norman's Lake Thunderbird cost $1,174,189 to operate in 2011.

Last year, more than 637,000 people visited Lake Thunderbird, the fifth most expensive state park in Oklahoma.

Located in Norman, the lake provides Oklahoma City-area residents easy weekend access to boating, swimming and water-skiing.

Lake Thunderbird earned $461,506 from activity fees in 2011, parks data show, less than one-third the revenue of the fourth most expensive state park in Oklahoma.

4. Robbers Cave State Park and Belle Starr Lodge 2011 Operating Cost: $1.4 million

Gene Perry / Flickr

Robbers Cave was the third most-attended state park in 2011.

Once a hideout for outlaws Jesse James and Belle Starr, Robbers Cave is beloved by rock climbers, rappellers and, oddly enough, social psychologists.

More than 830,000 people visited the park in 2011, making Robbers Cave the third most popular state park in Oklahoma. The park collected $1,535,454 in revenue last year, parks data show.

Adding in the operating costs of the 20-room Belle Starr Lodge brings the 2011 tab for Robbers Cave to $1,405,91.

3. Beavers Bend State Park and Lakeview Lodge 2011 Operating Cost: $2.5 million

Dan Eggers / Flickr

Beavers Bend State Park earned almost $1.8 million in 2011, the most revenue of any single state park in Oklahoma.

Originally a Civilian Conservation Corps and National Parks Service project, Beavers Bend was purchased by the state in 1937, and was the second most-attended park last year.

Located in forested southeastern Oklahoma, Beavers Bend is situated near Broken Bow Lake and the Mountain Fork River.

The park’s 40-room Lakeview Lodge cost $414,255 to run last year, parks data show, but Beavers Bend generates the most revenue of any state park. Last year, the park alone earned $1,787,731. Adding in the lodge’s earnings brings the total park revenue in 2011 to more than $2.3 million.

2. Sequoyah State Park and Western Hills Guest Ranch 2011 Operating Cost: $3.2 million

Granger Meador / Flickr

The Western Hills Guest Ranch is the largest and most expensive of Oklahoma's state park lodges.

More than 275,000 people visited Sequoyah State Park last year, which is about an hour southeast of Tulsa on the banks of Fort Gibson Lake.

Sequoyah became a state park in 1948 and cost $888,124 to run in 2011, parks data show — a figure that only puts the park in the top 10 most expensive parks in the state. But when you figure in one of the park’s signature attractions, the 104-room guest lodge, that number jumps dramatically.

The Western Hills Guest Ranch is the largest — and most expensive — of the state’s park lodges. Last year, the lodge’s operating expenditures were $2,266,348, the single most costly state park attraction on the balance sheet.

1. Lake Murray State Park and Lodge 2011 Operating Cost: $3.5 million

Cordey / Flickr

More than 1.7 million people visited Lake Murray in 2011.

Oklahoma’s most expensive park tops a lot of other lists. Lake Murray is the state’s most popular park, it earns the most money from activity fees, and it was the first state park.

The Oklahoma State Legislature in 1931 appropriated $90,000 to purchase 10,000 acres in Carter and Love counties. A dam construction project by the National Park Service and Civilian Conservation Corps started in 1933 and ended in 1937, when the new lake and sate park were debuted.

Named after William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray, Oklahoma’s ninth governor, Lake Murray and the on-site Lake Murray Lodge cost $3,510,931 to run in 2011, parks data show. The park and lodge together made almost $3.2 million in revenue last year.

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  • Jimmy

    This seems like kind of a weird article, given that some of the parks in this list cost the state a big chunk of change and some of them actually turn a profit just from fees. “Five parks that lost the most money” or “five most popular parks” would make more sense. Most expensive isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing.

    • Anonymous

      StateImpact Oklahoma is hyper-focused on state budget issues, so we framed the discussion around where taxpayer money goes. You’re right: expensive isn’t good or bad. In light of the recent state parks trimming, we wanted to see where the money was going. It looks like we’re spending the most money on the most popular parks, which makes sense!

      • Ryan

        Want to sink your teeth into some costly corrupt spenditures? Poke around what Lake Murray has got going on right now. Look what Sen. Frank Simpson and Rep. Pat Ownbey are planning. If the truth was out they and the park officials would be out of a job!

        • joewertz

          They’re wanting to build a lodge, right? If you know something more, let me know. Here or email jwertz@stateimpact.org

  • Anonymous

    On parks and state spending: anything you’re interested in knowing or us looking into? Let us know and we’ll poke around and ask question! jwertz@stateimpact.org

  • Lisa D

    Lake Texoma tax base cost us one year 1.5 million in lost tax revenue, plus the lost revenue of local businesses. Privatization really works to crash our economy, and how much money did the Governors Manson bring in? Maybe we should get a double wide and sell the mansion?

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