Osage Nation to Save Oklahoma State Park from Closure

Wah-Sha-She State Park is one on a list of seven Oklahoma state parks that will forced to permanently close on Aug. 15 due to budget cuts, but under the control of the Osage Nation it could reopen before summer’s end.

The 1,110-acre park, located on the shores of Lake Hulah, offers a wide range of recreational activities, including fishing, boating, swimming, and amenities, such as a playground, nature trail, picnic areas as well as 47 semi-modern RV sites and 15 regular tent sites.

The Osage Nation first expressed interest in taking over Wah-Sha-She State Park’s operations in March, when the state announced the parks slated for closure, and it then, from May to June, conducted a feasibility assessment.

Chris White, the tribe’s Executive Director of Governmental Affairs, told AIR that it is a fast-tracked project: “It took some time to meet with appropriate state officials and then for certain staff members to view the property, which is actually owned by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.  If the Nation did not act, the Corps would have to close and fence off the property.”

The Osage Nation Congress still must give its approval.  If a special session for the appropriation is not called for, White said it will be on the fall session’s agenda.

Osage Nation Principal Chief John Red Eagle said in a press release issued on July 12, “The Osage people have made it clear that one of their priorities is to expand and improve water recreation on the reservation, including swimming, boating, camping and fishing. This one step enables the Osage Nation to begin realizing that goal.”

Red Eagle also said that assuming control of the park falls in line with his desire to be a good partner with the Nation’s neighbors — the State of Oklahoma, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and anyone who uses the park.

This is not the first time an Indian tribe has partnered with a state to manage or help fund state parks, nor will it be the last. Most states are facing titanic budget shortfalls, and many have/or will temporarily or permanently close state parks to save money, including Arizona, California and Minnesota.

Last fall, the Hopi Tribe negotiated an intergovernmental agreement with the Arizona State Parks Board to help support operations and maintenance of Homolovi Ruins State Historic Park for one year, though it could be extended. Under the agreement, the tribe would pay $175,000 toward park operations costs. The state keeps all revenues generated by the park; and the Hopi Nation gets assurance that the park, an important ancestral site, will be preserved.

We have also seen park-saving used as a bargaining chip at the Indian gaming negotiations table. In June, Greg Sarris, chairman of Graton Rancheria, proposed giving $2 to $5 million to regional and state parks in Sonoma County, Calif., in exchange for receiving a 20-year agreement from the state to permit gambling at the tribe’s proposed Rohnert Park casino.

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