Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

How Hugo Lake Lost Its State Park Status

Fishing near Hugo Lake park, which lost its state park status in June 2013.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Fishing near Hugo Lake park, which lost its state park status in June 2013.

The Oklahoma Tourism Commission on June 26 voted to strip Hugo Lake of its state park status, citing low attendance.

The commission acted “quietly,” but state Sen. Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant, responded loudly, The Journal Record’s M. Scott Carter reports:

On Aug. 2, Ellis sent a letter to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin asking that the Tourism Commission reconsider the status of the park using factual information.

Should he not receive notice that the vote would be reconsidered, Ellis wrote, he would issue a statement calling for [state Tourism and Recreation Department Director Deby] Snodgrass’ resignation.

Ellis’ argument: The commission’s attendance numbers are wrong — Hugo Lake attracts more than 30 times as many visitors as state tourism officials say.

Low attendance is the biggest reason Oklahoma sheds state parks. In 2011, the commission voted to close or transfer seven state parks to save $700,000. Cities assumed management of five of those parks; Native American tribes took control of the other two.

The Hugo Lake park is managed by the Little Dixie Community Action Agency, which faxed over numbers that showed only 2,982 people visited the park in 2012, the paper reports.

But Sen. Ellis says numbers from the Army Corps of Engineers show the park’s 2012 attendance was 133,162 and has exceeded 100,000 for the last several years, the Journal reports:

That smaller figure, Ellis said, represented only the number of reservations at cabins around the lake.

Tourism officials are double-checking their numbers, the paper reports.

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