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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  • Stephen Willis

    The Tourism Commission and state Commissioners of the Land Office were the cause of lowered park visitor counts at Lake Texoma State Park when they shut down the former state park resort lodge and seventy park cabins beginning in December, 2006. Gov. Keating and Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin deliberately set out to de-fund park maintenance and improvements, although it was grossing over $3 million per year, and was the single most profitable and popular of all 51 state parks in 1999, the year Congressman Wes Watkins effected federal legislation authorizing the transfer of 1580 acres here, as if it were surplus, undeveloped land. Now, based on a recently disclosed secret contract, dated June, 2008, between Tourism and Pointe Vista, they want to privatize the rest of our park. Snodgrass worked for McClendon when she headed Chesapeake Energy’s Public Affairs department immediately prior to her appointment to head OTRD. Can you say “Conflict of Interest?”

    • http://stateimpact.npr.org/oklahoma Joe Wertz

      I’d love to know more, Stephen! jwertz@stateimpact.org

      • Stephen Willis

        State Auditor Gary Jones and Agriculture Commissioner Jim Reese came to Kingston on May 3 to address Pointe Vista’s failure to build anything since their 2008 purchases of 758 acres . Both expressed serious concerns about those sales contracts. Jones said, “I would not have agreed to this contract as it is written.”

        Soon afterward, the Commissioners of the Land Office (CLO) appropriated $250K to hire an outside attorney to represent the state’s interests in their dealings with Pointe Vista. On July 31, Governor Fallin told The Oklahoman that, “deals the state entered into to sell Oklahoma Parkland at Lake Texoma to the private developer Pointe Vista Development are fundamentally flawed, and that state officials should not have signed the contracts as written.”

        Today, the Durant Daily Democrat reported, “The state Land board has hired an Oklahoma City law firm to work with it on legal issues that may arise in the development of a luxury resort on Lake Texoma.” This has an ominous ring to it since there has been no development, and there is no way they can meet the terms of their 2008 agreements for a hotel by May, 2014.

        Will Conner & Winters be proactive and void the bogus 2008 land contracts, and work for the best interests of Marshall & Bryan County citizens damaged by the closure of Texoma Lake State Park? Or will they be defending the CLO’s contracts and Aubrey McClendon’s private corporate interests?


  • Lisa D

    When economic times are bad, how can you legitimately use these numbers? Gas prices? Like new businesses becoming established, Lt Gov Fallin fought to obtain property from corps, next to Sawyer Bluff? Was she wanting land for a park or expansion of a development? Great liberty with the truth or just bad math? One a felony, the other a cause to update a resume?

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