Former Judge Learns about Oklahoma History While Visiting State Parks

Article excerpt

DUNCAN (AP) -- Former District Judge Hegel Branch Jr. has spent the night at every state park in Oklahoma except for one -- and since it's unlikely that he will be arrested there, he no longer feels the anticipation about staying there that he once did.

"There are 55 state parks, and I've been to 54," he said.

"In the past year I've learned more Oklahoma history than I did in high school," he said.

"Oklahoma has more diverse territory than I've ever seen."

From pine-covered mountain to endless prairie, canyon to cave and lake to desert, he has seen Oklahoma's extremes -- and all because the state started charging $20 a year for the State Park CEO card last year.

With the card, he said, "I get $2 off a night" for each night he camps in his recreational vehicle at a state park.

That means, with 10 stays, the card is paid for.

Branch decided to get his full money's worth, and "camp at every state park in the state," he said.

There was one state park -- the one he saved for last -- where this former judge anticipated running afoul of the law. It was an interesting concept for a man who has made a career of working within the legal system.

"They do not allow camping," he said. "Do you know what state park it is? It's the Oklahoma Capitol."

It was the forbidden fruit, a tantalizing temptation that helped keep Branch on the road to the farther reaches of the state, and the isolated state parks that he might otherwise have felt like passing over.

While on the road, whether to Black Mesa, Beaver, Alabaster Caverns, Great Salt Plains Lake or Little Sahara, or while resting between trips, he came up with a plan.

"Sitting in the center of the Capitol complex is the Bar Center," he said. Right in the middle of all of that state-owned, no- overnight-camping complex, is a building bought and paid for by the state's attorneys, through contributions and pledges, he said. …