Superintendent's Blog Archive

Superintendent Bruce Noble has written many articles addressing various aspects of park operations and ongoing events. Click on the links below for the archive of his previous blogs from 2008.
 
 
18 December 2008
Back on October 28, I had the pleasure of attending the Governor’s Water Conference in Midwest City. The conference attracted an overflow crowd with more than 500 people in attendance. Obviously water is a hot topic in Oklahoma, as it is throughout the western states.

To me, the highlight of the conference was a session titled “The Arbuckle-Simpson Study: Proposed Management Options”. As everybody in the Murray County area knows, the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer covers a large area in this region and provides the water that feeds the springs, streams, and lakes in Chickasaw National Recreation Area. The health of this aquifer is vital to the health of the park’s water resources.

At this point, a little history is in order. I think most folks in this area recall Senate Bill 288 that was passed in 2003. This bill represented a response to a proposal to draw water out of the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer and pipe it 88 miles to Canadian County. The bill called for a five-year aquifer study to calculate how much water could be drawn out of the aquifer without harming current users.

The data emerging from the five-year study is quite fascinating. The scientists have learned that the storage capacity of the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer is very small. While the recharge capacity of the aquifer falls in the relatively modest range of 4.7 to 10 inches per year, the aquifer’s small storage capacity dictates that any water withdrawals from the aquifer lead to an immediate reduction in the base flow of springs and streams.

As for the management options, initial model simulations indicate that a usage rate of one-tenth to two-tenths acre feet per acre would protect spring and stream habitat. This would be a considerable reduction from the usage rate of two acre feet per acre currently allowed by state law for temporary permits. If these recommendations are approved by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, rights of current water users will be protected while putting in place important measures to protect a very fragile aquifer. This is certainly good news for the park where only five of thirty-three springs identified in 1906 continue to actively flow.

In the meantime, the park is considering ways that we can be good stewards by reducing our impacts to the aquifer. To that end, we have installed equipment that will give us the capability to automatically shut off Vendome Well at night to allow us to reduce that usage of Arbuckle-Simpson water. Please be aware that the park has great reverence for Vendome Well. It was first drilled in 1922 and has since become a symbol of both the park and the City of Sulphur. In addition, recent Carbon-14 dating done by the US Geological Survey determined that the water flowing from Vendome Well is 10,500 years old. This incredible age is one of many reasons to respect this venerated water source.

I have already received one call from a local citizen asking about the park’s plans for Vendome Well and I very much appreciate getting that call. I want everyone in town to know that we have no intention of shutting off the well completely, only in the middle of the night when nobody sees it anyway. Furthermore, I hope everyone in the community will rest assured that we will not turn off the Vendome Well for one minute until we have gone through an environmental process that enables us to determine the impact of turning off the water at night. We certainly want to maintain our admiration for Vendome Well, while also doing our part to protect the aquifer as much as possible. In the meantime, I would welcome calls from anybody who has questions about the park’s plans regarding Vendome Well.

In closing, the holiday season is upon us and winter weather has arrived as well. Still, the winter has many days when the weather is plenty warm enough to use the trails in the park. If we are really lucky, some winter days even allow boaters to get out on the lake. I wish all local residents a wonderful holiday season and invite you to get outside and enjoy the park whenever the winter weather permits.
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6 September 2008
The end of summer is generally the time when national parks take stock of their annual visitor numbers. That task has taken on a higher level of interest this year with many wondering how the high price of gasoline will impact national park visitation. The numbers have started to trickle in and, while the picture is not all bad, it does seem obvious that gas prices have taken a toll.

During the past week, there have been some pretty pessimistic stories in the news. One national park in Michigan has seen a 30% decline in visitation this year as compared to last year. National parks in Hawaii have also seen an overall drop of 15%.

This news caused me to pick up the phone and do a quick survey of national park areas where I have worked. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and Colorado National Monument have actually both seen slight visitor increases in 2008. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park has seen a slight decrease, largely due to the use of smaller cruise ships that transport most of the visitors to that park. Interestingly, visitors who travel the Alaska Highway to visit that park have only dropped very slightly and the belief is that those who drive to Alaska are not discouraged by high gas prices because they actually expect them.

Here in Oklahoma, the picture is also somewhat mixed. The Oklahoma City National Memorial experienced a visitor increase in August, but overall visitation for the year is down 13.6%. Washita Battlefield National Historic Site had only had 9,377 visitors through the end of July, but that is a 51.51% increase compared to their number of visitors at that point in 2007. This visitor increase is undoubtedly due to Washita’s fabulous new visitor center which has given the park a much stronger focal point for drawing in the public.

Closer to home right here at Chickasaw National Recreation Area, the visitor numbers are a bit disappointing. Our numbers from January 1 through the end of Labor Day weekend are approaching 1,000,000, but that represents a decline of 12% compared to the same time last year. Interestingly, the two park uses that would seem to be most sensitive to gas prices—boats and recreation vehicles—have both seen a large increase. The overall visitor numbers at the Buckhorn area have increased an impressive 20% compared to 2007. Gas prices do seem to be reducing the number of “day users” who traditionally visit the park for a day, but do not stay overnight. That decline seems to account for the overall decline in park visitation experienced thus far this year.

Despite the visitor decline, please rest assured that the park staff is working hard to attract visitors to this area. We will soon be sending employees to staff a booth for the entire length of the Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City. During that time, we will work hard to entice people to visit Oklahoma national parks. We also routinely send staff to provide park information at both the Oklahoma Wildlife Expo and the Oklahoma City Boat & RV Show. We also regularly participate in the Murray County Business Expo.

While gas prices are likely to remain an issue for the tourism business in the years to come, I feel confident that the park’s efforts to attract visitors will continue to make Chickasaw National Recreation Area a very desirable vacation spot. Our efforts are greatly helped by the good work of partner organizations like the Arbuckle County Marketing Association. In addition, the anticipated opening of the Chickasaw Nation Cultural Center will give another boost to visitation. The visitor downturn witnessed in the park so far this year does not keep me from predicting that the future prospects for tourism in Murray County are very strong.

In my opinion the cooler fall weather and the upcoming fall colors make autumn the very best time to visit the park. Please make a special effort to visit the park during the next couple months and tell all your friends to come too. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed and your friends won’t be either!
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16 June 2008
A month or so ago, I had the pleasure of being invited to speak to the Artists of the Arbuckles group. When the time came for questions, I was asked about the park’s policy for taking photographs. It became immediately clear that there is much confusion about this policy. I’m not surprised that the public is confused because, frankly, the policy sometimes confuses me as well. Let me try to explain the policy, while offering some changes to the policy itself, in an effort to clarify the subject.

First of all, let me back up and say that photographs have a long history in the National Park Service. Explorer and mountain man John Colter was one of the first Euro-Americans to visit the Yellowstone area in the early 1800s. He told tales of boiling hot springs, fantastically colored rocks, raging waterfalls, and geysers spouting hundreds of feet into the air. Many people either did not believe his stories or mockingly referred to the future national park as “Colter’s Hell”. In the 1870s, photographer William Henry Jackson published the first photographs of Yellowstone and the American public received their first glimpse of the scenic wonders of this unique area. Jackson’s amazing photographs had great influence on the decision to make Yellowstone the nation’s first national park in 1872. As a result, photography played a huge role in spreading the national park ideal across the United States and around the world.

Having said that, I believe our photography permitting process here at Chickasaw National Recreation Area has perhaps stifled some of the enthusiasm for photography in this park. Let me make it very clear that the park’s photography policy does not apply to the vast majority of people who may want to take pictures in the park. The policy only applies to commercial photographers who make money from their photographic work. Those who take photographs as a hobby have absolutely no need for a permit. Please take as many non-commercial pictures as you want and enjoy them for a life time.

Now here’s where it gets a little complicated—commercial photographers will still require a permit if one of the following three conditions applies:

  1. The photographer wants to take a picture in a place that is not open to the public;
  2. The photographer brings in a model, set, or prop for their picture;
  3. The park would incur additional financial costs to monitor the photography.

I would like to try to simplify the complication here. The majority of “commercial” photographers in the park are taking wedding or graduation pictures. From where I sit, these types of photographic activities will generally not meet any of the three conditions listed above. (For example, in most instances a graduation picture will not occur in a closed area; will not use models, sets, or props; and will not require the park to incur financial costs.) Thus, the park will only require commercial photographers to have permits in those rare cases where the photographic activity meets one of the three stipulations shown above. The net result, I suspect, will be that very, very few photographers will need a permit in the park.

Commercial filming falls into a different category than photography. Where filming is concerned, the park has less flexibility. Our National Park Service rules regarding commercial filming read as follows: “All commercial filming activities taking place within a unit of the National Park system require a permit. Commercial filming includes capturing a moving image on film and video as well as sound recordings.” If somebody plans to engage in commercial filming in the park, and in those few situations where a permit is required for still photography, a $30 annual permit fee will be required. The permit application is easy to complete and an application can be obtained by calling 622-7220 or by visiting the park’s website, www.nps.gov/chic.

Where filming is concerned, the key word is again “commercial”. If you are planning to take video footage of your family vacation and you have no intention of ever selling it, you most certainly do not need a permit. By the same token, if there is a breaking news story that requires the media to take film, no permit is required. (However, the media is “subject to time, place, and manner restrictions, if warranted, to maintain order and ensure the safety of the public and the media, [and] protect natural and cultural resources.”)

I hope I have been able to clarify a subject that has been confusing to so many people. The primary message should be pretty clear: very few people will require a permit to take photographs or film in Chickasaw National Recreation Area. We appreciate your support and cooperation as we endeavor to implement a policy that applies to all 391 areas in the national park system across the nation.

The good news is that summer has arrived. We have had nice weekend weather so far this summer and park visitation has been good despite the high gas prices. The increased activity in the park and the high wind we’ve had lately call for everybody to be very safety conscious when you are around the water. Please get outside to enjoy the park and be safe. And don’t forget your camera!
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2 May 2008
Let me start out by admitting one thing: I love cats. My wife and I have an old cat that we’ve hauled across the country as we moved from Maryland to Alaska to Colorado to Oklahoma. She’s like a member of the family. We have another cat that we adopted after we found him running wild in the Platt District of Chickasaw National Recreation Area. His job is to keep snakes and mice away from our house and I must say that he has performed very well in that role.

While there is a place for cats around the house or in the barn, cats are not a part of the natural environment. That is why I’m concerned about the enormous number of cats running wild in the Platt District of the park. Wild cats, often referred to as feral cats, live high on the food chain when let loose in nature. In pretty short order, they will consume a large number of birds, rodents, frogs, and other amphibians. The wild things that cats eat are not generally animals that we would want to find inside our houses, but they are creatures that are essential to the proper functioning of a natural ecosystem. In short, feral cats are simply not compatible with the natural environment. For that reason, feral cats have no place in national park areas.

Unfortunately, many people have found the Platt District to be a convenient place to drop cats that don’t have a home. In addition, people concerned about the welfare of these cats take it upon themselves to drive through the park and throw piles of dry cat food on the ground. When that happens, the cats run from all directions to enjoy the feast. These kind-hearted citizens actually provide cats with the necessary food to enable them to survive in the park even if they fail to catch enough wild critters to sustain themselves. Thus, the feral cat population thrives.

An animal shelter would be a more appropriate place for these cats, but I realize that we have no shelter in the local community. However, I would like to ask everyone who is concerned about the well-being of these cats to consider a different approach. Why not take them to animal shelters in other communities? Or how about finding people willing to adopt the cats? Or why not find a place that agrees to take the cats with a guarantee not to euthanize them? Such places exist in Oklahoma. If anybody would like to take on this worthy task, please contact me!

National parks take pride in providing habitat for animals native to that particular park area. Here at Chickasaw National Recreation Area, we love our thriving population of deer, turkey, rabbits, squirrels, coyotes, and even the armadillos. We also love our native cats like bobcats and the mountain lions and jagarundi that are reportedly seen in the park. We do not welcome the feral hogs and cats that compete with the native species and damage the natural environment. The folks who are feeding the cats may think they are helping them, but they are not helping the animal population as a whole. Please consider another strategy.

With all that said, the park staff is looking forward to another busy summer season. Even with record high gas prices, we are hopeful that our visitation numbers will remain strong since most people coming to the park live in the surrounding region. While people may hesitate to travel cross-country with gas priced at $3.50 per gallon, we anticipate that locations within our region like Chickasaw National Recreation Area will remain attractive destinations. It always does my heart good to see local people using the park and I very much look forward to seeing you on the trails or on the lakes in the near future.
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10 March 2008
The new year is not so new anymore and I have been less diligent in providing park updates to the Times-Democrat recently. In the meantime, reporter Steve Zimmerman has done a fine job covering park issues in the newspaper and I want to thank him for his good work. However, I am happy to have the opportunity to get back into the habit of using this column to keep the Murray County community informed about park issues.

I am pleased to announce that the park’s General Management Plan is essentially complete. The final public comment period has closed with only one comment received and the park is now preparing to move forward with printing the final plan. We have a large mailing list of individual citizens, business owners, and elected officials who will soon be receiving a copy of the final plan. Anyone else wanting a copy of the plan should contact the park to request a copy (622-7220). This plan has been in the development process for 5 years and will guide the future direction of the park for a 15 to 20 year time period. It is a relief to have this important document nearly completed and to finally have the chance to begin implementing some of the excellent recommendations it contains.

Over the winter, the park and surrounding community have had a variety of experiences with fire events. The dry, windy conditions have contributed to a number of serious grass fires and I am pleased that the park staff has been able to assist with the suppression of those fires. We have also been able to use prescribed fire as a tool to reduce the eastern red cedar population and restore natural prairie conditions. Heavy rain followed recent prescribed burning between the Point Road and Good Shepherd Road and that area should be turning green again very soon. Fire is a powerful tool and it is gratifying to see it used successfully to enhance the natural ecosystem within Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

Another very positive winter project involves the trail around Veterans Lake. When I first arrived here about a year ago, I was surprised to see many of the benches around Veterans Lake totally overgrown by red cedar and other vegetation. Thanks to the work of our park rangers during the winter months, much of that vegetation has been removed and the views from those benches looking out over the lake have been greatly improved. If you have not walked around Veterans Lake recently, I encourage you to do so and I think you will be favorably impressed by the changes.

As spring approaches, it is time to begin thinking about cleaning up the accumulated winter debris and putting forward our best appearance for the summer visitor season. To that end, the park will be conducting a litter patrol on Friday, March 14 that will primarily focus on the Platt district. We would welcome assistance from the community. If you’re interested, please plan to arrive at the crew room just past the Platt Ranger Station (former park headquarters) at 8:30 am on Friday. Also, the park staff will be working to spruce up the downtown area on Monday, April 7. If you can provide assistance, please join us at 8:30 am at 1008 W. 2nd Street. (For more information, call 622-7220.)

I am also pleased by some of the fine new employees recently hired here in the park. Natasha Moore comes to us from Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park on the big island of Hawaii. Among her many talents, Natasha will have a chance to utilize her fluent Spanish language skills on behalf of the park staff. New Supervisory Ranger Randy Scoggins comes to us as a highly recommended employee from Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. Finally, we were happy to hire Charlotte Stratton as a new addition to our administrative staff. She previously worked for the City of Sulphur and their loss is our gain. It is a pleasure to be able to better serve our visitors and the community with fine employees such as these.

As we welcome new employees, I also want to recognize the contributions of a recent retiree from the park staff. Joe Peterson retired around the holidays and I want to thank him for his many years of dedicated service to the park. He has certainly earned his retirement, but I will miss the great work ethic that he exhibited over a span of many years. All the best to you, Joe.

I would also like to take this opportunity to note the recent passing of Russell E. Dickenson. Born in Melissa, TX in 1923, Mr. Dickenson once served as Chief Ranger of Platt National Park during the 1950s. He went on to achieve the highest job in the National Park Service, serving as the Director in Washington, DC from May 15, 1980 to March 3, 1985. I know there are people in town who have stayed in touch with Russ and his wife Ollie Maxine Dickenson over the years. Although Russ will be missed, it is inspiring to think that the Sulphur community has played a part in molding people who have gone on to serve in very influential positions in the National Park Service over the years. It serves to remind me that we all have a powerful voice if we make the commitment to utilize that voice to its maximum capacity.

Despite the recent snow fall in the area, there are signs of spring in the air. I am even told that some very large fish have been pulled out of the Lake of the Arbuckles recently! I hope that the improving weather will lure you onto the lake or the trails in the very near future.
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Last updated: February 24, 2015

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