Wah-Sha-She State Park Thriving Under Osage Nation Control
OSAGE COUNTY, Oklahoma - Although the economy is improving, it wasn't long ago that a budget crisis prompted a decision to close some Oklahoma state parks to save money.
It was bad news for people who enjoy the parks. But the good news is, other groups stepped up to keep the parks open.
Wah-Sha-She Park, on Hulah Lake in Osage County, was one of seven state parks on the chopping block. The Osage Nation assumed the state's lease with the corps of engineers to keep it open.
"The Wah-Sha-She Park was just in disrepair, and it was our opportunity to give back," said Daniel St. John, with the Osage Nation.
In a year's time, the Osage Nation has made electric improvements, water system upgrades and is staying on top of maintenance at the park. While it's still not a profitable venture, that's not the tribe's intent.
"We're not here to make a fortune, we're here to provide a service for everybody," said maintenance worker Walter Martin.
Last year, 15,000 people visited the park. Attendance has already surpassed that this year.
The Osage Nation hopes it's not just a nice place for people to enjoy, but also could improve the economy in the area.
"The tribe has the capital and the vision to go ahead and develop this area. It could be great," Martin said.
Solutions were also found for other state parks that would have closed.
A nonprofit group now maintains Heavener Runestone. Boggy Depot is operated by the Chickasaw Nation. Sallisaw took over at Brushy Lake, and Tulsa at Lake Eucha. The City of Beaver now runs Beaver Dunes.
Back at Wah-Sha-She, the Osage Nation says the arrangement has worked out well and could lead to similar partnerships in the future.
"I think it's a great thing," St. John said.
Martin said, "It's one of those things you don't appreciate until it's gone. So, it's been really good for everybody."
The state of Oklahoma saves an estimated $700,000 a year by not operating those state parks.