A proposal by the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation could force Lake Tenkiller and other state parks to begin charging entrance fees beginning as early as next spring.
Among a list of proposed modifications for state parks issued Oct. 30, Tourism and Recreation noted that at the state’s 33 parks, with a total of 117 park entrances, 52 of them could begin charging an entry fee of possibly $8 to $12. The changes would likely include Beavers Bend, Lake Murray, Lake Thunderbird, Sequoyah and Lake Eufaula state parks.
Greater Tenkiller Area Association President John Ellis wrote a letter to Jerry Winchester, the executive director of the Tourism and Recreation Department, and posted it on the group’s Facebook page and urged other concerned citizens to contact area legislators.
Entrance fees could result in the closing of a restaurant inside the Tenkiller park, a concessionaire that pays its own way, Ellis said.
“If you have to pay $8 or $12 just to get to it, why would you go there when you can just go to a restaurant down the road for free?” he said. “Not knowing exactly what they had in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to give them some of our thoughts and concerns about what impacts of charging fees at the main entrances to Tenkiller would have. We particularly focused on the businesses in the park that are privately owner, a marina, the restaurant and a dive shop.”
“Plus, there are five residences on the north border of the park whose only access to their house is park roads,” he noted.
For decades, other residents of the area have used park roads like any other rural roads in the area. For many locals, driving around the park instead of through it could add 8 miles or more to their daily commutes, he said.
Only one Oklahoma state park currently charges an entry fee. The cost to enter Natural Falls State Park in West Siloam Springs is $5 per vehicle and several others charge day-use fees for specific features within the park, such as the dunes at Little Sahara State Park.
“They haven’t said anything about what kinds of considerations they would give to residents who are affected, both inside or outside the parks,” Ellis said. “There hasn’t been a lot I’m aware of put out by the department, other than the little bit you can read in the press.”
According to Winchester, legislative approval is not required to begin charging the entrance fees, which are expected to bring in about $8 million that would go toward park upgrades and repairs.
Laura Brown, KXMX Staff Writer
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