Grant Sloan, News On 6
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma -- It was a rebirth of sorts for an Oklahoma Wildlife Refuge. Wednesday, the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge near Okmulgee dedicated its new visitor center.
The celebration is a year late. That's because an arsonist set fire to the reconstruction effort last August. But it hasn't extinguished their high hopes for the project.
Folks got a chance to shoot clay pigeons, try their hand at archery, and learn a little about what makes these 9,600 acres so special.
"I just think it's important that people learn to appreciate their natural environment, it's an integral part of who we are," said Darrin Unruh, Refuge Manager.
The dedication ceremony celebrates the opening of a new center for visitors - but more importantly - a fresh start.
Last August, construction on the building came to a halt after a fire destroyed the partially-completed building.
"We were committed to recovering from that, and to get that office back up and getting the public the office that they deserved out here," Unruh said.
Nearly 40,000 people visit the Wildlife Refuge every year. The facility is intended to alleviate the need for offsite offices ten miles away, and allow the refuge to expand its services.
"This is our community, our money that stays here is something, that we can brings our kids out and our family out and be able to enjoy this, this is what it's about," John Hall, Friends Group President, said.
In addition to the new center the refuge has erected signs along Highway 75 to help attract visitors to the area. They hope to show future generations the importance of maintaining this piece of Sooner soil.
The center will also provide gun and archery safety courses.