The Federal Shutdown Is Making Some Oklahoma Parks More Popular

Oct 10, 2013

Sulphur Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shelly Sawatzky stands just outside an entrance to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur, Okla.
Credit Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Thousands of federal workers in Oklahoma were furloughed because of the budget stalemate in Washington, D.C., including those in charge of operating and maintaining dozens of campsites and parks run by the U.S. government.

In Sulphur, barricades warn the public away from entering the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, which is closed along with federal parks across the state, many around some of Oklahoma’s most popular lakes.

But it’s not just employees of the National Park Service or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who are suffering. Cities and towns that depend on tourism are taking a hit, too.

“The day the park actually closed was the first day of public hunting — archery deer season. And so that impacted a lot of the hunters who utilize the park,” Sulphur Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shelly Sawatzky says. “The local visitor impact is about $14 million. The park actually has a little over 1.5 million visitors each year.”

That money doesn’t come from the fees for camping or launching boats at of the recreation area’s lakes; it’s from tourists spending money at local business like A.J.’s Good Stuff, a tiny coffee shop that also serves lunch.

“We sell a little ‘park it’ basket. It’s like $20 for drinks and chips and a sandwich and all kinds of goodies to go to the park to eat,” Shannon North says from behind the register. “Obviously they can’t do that either.”

At least the coffee shop has Sulphur residents to fall back on. Dick Duhn at Arbuckle RV Resort is really feeling the pain.

Dick Duhn, owner of Arbuckle RV Resort, says business is down more than 50 percent since the government shutdown.
Credit Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

“I’d say we’re probably down 50 to 60 percent — at least,” Duhn says. “I’m embarrassed for our government that functions so poorly. And I just with there was an election coming up.”

There is a silver lining to Sulphur’s situation:Turner Falls State Park is just a few miles away, and it’s open. State parks aren’t affected by the shutdown of the federal government. In fact, they’re booming as a result.

“We are actually experiencing considerable uptick,” Oklahoma State Parks Director Kris Marek says.

Marek says many campers and park-goers who are turned away from the federal sites are instead pulling into the state park down the road, and attendance at parks like Eufaulaand Texoma is way up.

“It’s actually a good thing for us because we’re used to being busy in the summer and things start slacking off this time of year,” Marek says. “So having this extra business is a very positive good fortune for us.”

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