Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Losing Hugo Lake: Okla. Park Stripped of State Designation

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Losing Hugo Lake: Okla. Park Stripped of State Designation

Article excerpt

An 11-year-old state park, which was at the center of a 2008 FBI investigation over land sales and is the focal point for a proposed water sale to the Tarrant Regional Water District, quietly lost its state park designation on June 26, state documents show.

Originally established as Kiamichi Park in 1974 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Hugo Lake State Park was cut in half in 2002. Half of the park was leased to the state of Oklahoma that same year. The state park covers about 289 acres and includes Lake Hugo, a federal reservoir that holds about 157,000 acre-feet of water.

Since its creation, the park and the lake have proved popular with tourists.

But despite attendance records that show more than 133,000 visitors went to the park in 2012, the Oklahoma Tourism Commission voted on June 26 to remove its state designation.

That vote drew a terse response from state Sen. Jerry Ellis, D- Valliant. On Aug. 2, Ellis sent a letter to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin asking that the Tourism Commission reconsider the status of the park using factual information.

Ellis said the commission used wrong attendance figures to make its decision. He said attendance at the park has exceeded the 100,000 mark for several years, adding that attendance for 2012 was 133,162.

"They voted to remove the designation based on wrong information," Ellis said. "Tourism (Executive) Director Deby Snodgrass had information that said attendance was only 2,892."

That smaller figure, Ellis said, represented only the number of reservations at cabins around the lake.

"Figures from the Corps of Engineers show the numbers for 2013 are already past the 100,000 point," he said. "So I don't know why they wouldn't look at the past numbers to get a better idea about the attendance."

Ellis' tersely written letter asked the Tourism Commission to use factual information to reconsider the status of the park. …

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