State parks get fewer tourists this holiday weekend

Saturday, September 3rd 2005, 10:50 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ State park officials are blaming high gas prices for the decrease of tourists at state parks this Labor Day weekend.

``In 14 years, I've never seen a holiday weekend where we weren't at 100 percent,'' said Lynn Holderman, senior reservation clerk at Beavers Bend Resort Park at Broken Bow. ``It's surreal. With the gas prices, it's the only thing that we're competing with. I don't feel it's an internal thing.''

Gas prices in the Oklahoma City area are about $3.04 a gallon, and about $3.18 in the Tulsa area, said Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. He said he doesn't expect those prices to go up over the weekend.

For state parks, the damage might have already been done.

``It looks gorgeous,'' Holderman said of the park. ``It's labeled as God's country, and we strive to be friendly.

``It's very frustrating.''

Holderman said the weekend will be busy and she expects visitors to have a great time.

Loraine Richmond, naturalist for Lake Eufaula State Park in Checotah, said high gas prices aren't always bad for business because they can keep vacationers within the state. But record highs, like now, keep residents home.

``At the moment, they're not rolling in,'' she said. ``This is usually one of our biggest weekends. It's kind of the last hurrah.''

Richmond said park workers are hoping tourists start arriving today and enjoy the weekend. She said if that doesn't happen, the summer was still busy.

``We've had lots of campers,'' she said. ``We've had two good holidays and lots of good weekends. One bad holiday probably wouldn't kill us, but we'd rather see the park full.''

Mike Fina, spokesman for the state Tourism and Recreation Department, said many of the 50 state parks will be at capacity. He said there will be fewer vacationers from out of state coming to the parks this year.

``We'd love to have Oklahomans visiting Oklahoma sites and being tourists in their own state,'' he said.

Lake Murray State Park in Ardmore was one of the sites at near capacity Friday, Park Manager Carol Jackson said.

She said vacationers who made plans for the whole weekend have kept their plans, but those who usually would go out for a day might stay home this year.

``Typically, it is not as big as Memorial Day but it is still going to be a pretty good weekend for us,'' she said.

Gore has had only one cancellation, and it was quickly replaced, said Kelli Peters, who works at the park's front desk.

Lake Thunderbird State Park at Norman received several cancellations that Park Manager Susan Hendon attributed to gas prices. But she said high gas prices haven't kept visitors from filling up large boats with costly gas.

``That is one thing that kind of surprised me,'' she said.