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Official speaks on potential state park closures

(Source Discover Oklahoma) (Source Discover Oklahoma)

OKLAHOMA (KSWO) - Oklahoma is continuing to try to offset a major budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year and the next thing that could be on the chopping block is Oklahoma State Parks.

There are 33 state parks across the Sooner state, but due to of budget cuts, 16 of those parks could be forced to close. While the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department said these cuts are not yet guaranteed, they want to be prepared for the worst.

Last week, the State House of Representatives sent an email to each state agency asking them what they would do if faced with a 14.5 percent budget loss. Now that fate is hanging in the balance, as each department prepares for plan B. If the budget of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation department is cut, the effects will be seen all across the state, said Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department Public Information Officer Leslie Blair.

"We would remove 16 state parks from the parks system, one state golf course would need to be removed from the system,” Blair said. “We would discontinue publication of Oklahoma Today Magazine after 60 years and the Miami Travel Center operation would be transferred to the city of Miami."

Blair said closing the parks would have a major impact on our state's tourism.

"The tourism department as a whole is the third largest industry and generates over $8.6 billion of economic impact,” Blair said. “And that's direct economic impact from visitors coming into the state of Oklahoma. State parks and the Oklahoma Today Magazine are big parts of the tourism department. This would definitely be devastating and heartbreaking."

The cut is not a 100 percent done deal, it's simply a possibility. But Blair said the department has seen significant cuts in the past which would make this extra 14.5 percent even more devastating.

"Since 2009, tourism's annual appropriation has been reduced 38 percent. We've lost an additional $13.5 million from our revolving accounts so our budget is very lean, there's not anything that we can cut,” Blair said.

So far, there aren't many answers as to what would happen if the parks closed, but Blair said she knows there would certainly be job cuts.

"If the parks were to close its the loss of about 80 full-time employees,” Blair said. “At this point, we don't yet know if the parks could be transferred to other entities if they are owned by the federal governments, if the courts could take over operations or if municipalities could take over operations, but we know cities are as strapped as the state is. So, we just don't have those answers at this point and hopefully, it's not something we have to take into consideration but we will prepare for all possibilities."

The parks that would close if the cuts are made are:

  • Talimena

  • Great Plains State Park

  • Cherokee landing State Park

  • Natural Falls State Park

  • Red Rock Canyon State Park

  • Great Salt Plains State Park

  • Lake Eufaula State Park

  • Lake Wister State Park

  • Alabaster Caverns State Park

  • McGee Creek State Park

  • Foss Lake State Park 

  • Osage Hills State Park

  • Greenleaf State Park

  • Lake Texoma State Park

  • Grand Lake State Park 

  • Grand Cherokee Golf Course

  • Boiling Springs State Park

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