TWO MULES AND A SQUIRREL
From the very inception of the federal legislation that created the 629-acre Sulphur Springs Reservation, there were those in Congress and the Department of the Interior who thought that the Reservation should never become a national park.
As a matter of fact, the last half of the last sentence of the Act of July 1, 1902, which established the Reservation, states:
. . .Provided, however, That nothing contained in this section shall be construed or held to commit the Government of the United States to any expenditure of money upon said lands or the improvements thereof, except as provided herein, it being the intention of this provision that in the future the lands and improvements herein mentioned shall be conveyed by the United States to such Territorial or State organization as may exist at the time when such conveyance is made.
It cannot be stated much clearer than above that the government never intended for Platt National Park to ever come into existence. Platt was lucky, very lucky.
The sheer political clout of Senator Orville H. Platt is what caused the legislation to be passed. Even Senator Platt later had second thoughts.
Many of those in Congress felt that the Government should only hold the land of the Reservation in trust until the appropriate Federal, Territorial or State agency could take control.
Many also felt that the little Park was not worthy of the status of a National Park. Consequently, there was never much early effort made to develop the Park. The development of the resources of the Park pretty much coasted along in neutral until the arrival of the CCC in 1933.
As a general rule, Congress allocated only enough money to do minimal development and necessary maintenance. But, the New Deal social programs to get America back on its feet put 170 workers and hundreds of thousands of dollars into the development of campgrounds, fire pits, sewers, comfort stations, pavilions, roads & trails and the development of the streams & falls in the long neglected Park.
Probably, no other Park dodged the bullet of loosing its status as many times as has Platt National Park. Efforts were made to remove Platt from the National Park System in 1910, 1913, 1924, 1927, 1928, 1930, 1932, 1938, 1957 and 1958.
Some suggested that Platt should be a national monument. But, what was the "real" difference between the two? In reality, the only difference between the two is that Congress nominates a National Recreation Area and the President of the United States nominates a National Park. Each time an effort was made to remove Platt from the System it was the result of some anonymous person creating a list of new criteria for a national Park. A person with an agenda could easily create a set of criteria that would eliminate Yellowstone or Yosemite as a national park if they so wished.
In 1933 Louis C. Crampton, special attorney for the Secretary of the Interior, was asked to make a study and report on what criteria must be met to qualify as a national park. He listed eight points that must be met. Most make good sense but several are at least questionable.
One point is to be of "national interest". We must question this, as there is equal weight in the consideration of "regional interest". Not all people have the physical or financial ability, time or interest to visit every national Park in the country designated by some anonymous Washington bureaucrat as "interesting".
Another point was to "possess variety". Well, this is certainly up to vigorous interpretation and debate. We have been to Grand Canyon several times. No matter how many times you go, it is still one really big canyon, it all looks pretty much the same to us. We have also been to Carlsbad Caverns several times and no matter how many times you go it is still just one really big cave. Not much variety.
Once I was sitting in a barbershop waiting and noticed a new sign on the wall. It read, "Shave $5". I asked the barber if that wasn't a lot of money for a shave. He replied, "It depends on which end of the razor you are on." This bit of philosophy applies to the battle of semantics that raged over what was a national Park. It just depended on what one's own personal views were.
In 1938 an effort was made to add the entire Arbuckle uplift as an effort to preserve its unique geological features. This plan was rejected. Later in 1938 another plan was devised to add Veterans Lake to the park and change its status to a national recreation area. But, local residents feared the loss of national park status.
By the late 1950's, the plans for the Arbuckle Reclamation Project, developed by the Bureau of Reclamation, were being finalized. The purpose of the project was to provide a permanent water supply for municipal and industrial use.
There was talk of making the proposed Arbuckle Reservoir a national recreation site. But in 1958 there were no criteria for what constituted a recreation area. People went to park's to picnic, fish, camp or view the scenery. Just about anything one enjoys is recreation. The same activities enjoyed in Platt were enjoyed in Yellowstone or Rocky Mountain National Park's. Nobody goes to a national Park to get mauled by a grizzly bear or gored by a moose.
So, in late 1958, talk began to combine Arbuckle Reservoir and Platt National Park in order to qualify the new lake as a recreational area.
In 1967, the Chickasaw Tribe proposed to change the name of Platt National Park to the Chickasaw National Park in honor of their cession of the land for the Park.
In 1970 the Chickasaws again requested that if there was the joining of the Platt National Park and the newly designated Arbuckle Recreation Area the name become the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
The people of Sulphur and Davis supported the name change of the Arbuckle Lake area to the new name but flatly rejected the notion that Platt should loose its National Park name or status. It was feared by most that Platt would become a second rate park if this happened. Although this did not happen, there was a general sense that the new recreation area was centered on a lake and the springs would be forgotten.
Many local residents felt that the focus of the recreational area now centered on the new lake and that there was a new effort afoot to eventually transfer Platt to the State of Oklahoma.
In 1976 the Park and the new lake were finally joined to form the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. In the succeeding thirty years, loss of status did not occur. The Earth continued to spin on its axis and the sun rose every day.
A National Park is defined by those who have the job of defining such Park's. Their opinions are not engraved on golden tablets. But one thing is very true. What is important to one observer may be trivial to another. Both opinions are important.
This country is blessed with about every kind of geology, geography and scenery. There are volcanoes, glaciers, rain forest, deserts, vast swamps, mountains, canyons, forest, lakes, seashores, geysers and caves. I do not want to stand on either a volcano or a glacier. But I do not begrudge those that do. These areas are truly unique.
This writer's opinion is that a National Park is a unique place for unique reasons. It does not necessarily have to have 'national interest' but rather 'regional interest'. The National Park Service should be a caretaker agency that keeps and maintains these unique places in their natural state and with a certain amount of continuity.
For seventy-five years, the Sulphur Springs Reservation and Platt National Park fought Washington bureaucrats over the importance of regional interest in a park.
There seemed to be a loss of history as to why the Historic Platt District was originally designated as a Park after it became a recreational area.
The cause for the original designation as a park was the unique geology, geography, springs and healing waters. The millions of people who came from all over the United States received their healing from the magical black mud and mystical waters that issued from the streambeds, mountain valleys and cliffs.
One can build another lake across the mountain from Lake Arbuckle and they will look exactly the same. But you will not find another place that looks like the old Historic Platt District. If there were one, you would know its name.
The addition of Arbuckle Lake to the recreation area seems to have caused the loss the true sense of visiting the old Platt National Park. Just sitting in the cool shade, listening to the soft sound of the breeze in the leaves and the enchanting murmurings of the waters of the springs as they toppled over a falls was enough. It was hypnotic. It was peaceful.
© by Dennis Muncrief - 2006