We could soon see more development along U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes in Oklahoma and nearby states. It's a public-private partnership called Partners for Heroes, and the program is designed to help returning soldiers and first responders deal with stress. But the upgrade in facilities will also be available for anyone to use.
The facilities at the scenic overlook at Skiatook Lake are old and in disrepair. There are many just like it nationwide.
Ron Howell with Partners for Heroes, said, "Every lake I've looked at so far has an overlook. Everyone is either decaying, hardly ever used or both."
Howell, the developer of Cross Timbers Marina on the lake who spearheaded a campaign to build an honor cottage for injured soldiers and their families, has a plan to take the public-private partnership one more step.
A group called Partners for Heroes plans to turn the overlooks into something special for veterans and first responders.
"The Corps just went oh this is great, this does so many things for us, because of their budget," Howell said.
Partners for Heroes is working on an agreement with the Corps office which oversees Oklahoma and several surrounding states, to invest private dollars to improve the sites and offer recreation opportunities.
"Give them safe, first class experiences out here, give them the kinds of activities that they want, archery, horseback riding, kayaking, fishing, gun clubbing, all those things," Howell said.
Most of the locations already have good infrastructure like roads, water service and electricity.
Veterans and first responders would get first priority, but the facilities could also be used by the general public.
"Up in here is perfect for volleyball and horseshoes and those types of activities, so we'll really be able to use this side for the flat terrain, and as well as being able to use the hillside," said Howell.
He said studies have shown outdoor activities in this type of setting, and being around others facing the same stresses, help to lessen the effects of post-traumatic stress.
"It will really achieve something that the corps can't do without private investment, and it really provides something that our heroes have really needed for their psychological challenges that they've had from the service that they've given to us," said Howell.
Partners for Heroes plans to start on Skiatook Lake first, in about a month, then Lake Keystone and Lake Arcadia in central Oklahoma. But they're already looking at sites in Texas and near Branson. The hope is to ultimately make it a nationwide effort.