Lake Wister State Park began nearly 70 years ago and is one of 50 state parks in Oklahoma
Dams are built for water control. They manage water flow during flooding and drought, thereby minimizing damage as much as possible.
An estimated $1 million was saved in the first three years after Wister Dam became operational in 1949. One early benefit was the creation of Lake Wister State Park on land mostly donated by the Army Corps of Engineers with Quarry Island, current home of the park office and the first parcel donated. Today, the park is one of 50 state parks in Oklahoma.
Lake Wister is on the National Register of Historic Places because the area has been inhabited for thousands of years and contains numerous Spiro Mounds created by prehistoric Native Americans. Not surprisingly, the area is home to important artifacts and numerous species of wildlife, including bald and golden eagles best seen during winter.
Wister Lake contains 7,300 acres of surface area with 115 miles of picturesque shoreline. The area is very untouched with few houses or other structures visible so the views are natural and serene.
In an effort to make this park more assessable to locals and out-of-town visitors, the park has developed amenities to meet a wide variety of needs.
“My favorite place is Wister Ridge, a primitive camping spot with a bathhouse,” park director Chris Hawn, said with a laugh. “I am a hammock camper so all I need is a couple of trees to turn me into a happy camper.”
Meeting the needs of today’s campers requires a variety of facilities accommodating little campers pulled behind a truck, as well as a fifth-wheel or mobile home, sometimes belonging to people who tour the country full-time. To meet these needs, the park has a variety of options, including 30 to 50 amp hookups, concrete pads, with some being handicap accessible, and sewer connections. Premium sites have lake-front views, though all sites are close to the beautiful lake. A final overnight visiting option is renting the group camp, which sleeps 100. In addition, the park has a large group building with a substantial kitchen and seating capacity for family reunions, summer camps, etc., though pavilions are available for smaller groups.
People go to parks to have fun, and Wister State Park answers the call. Boat docks allow access to the lake for cruising and, of course, fishing. In fact, the state record 106-pound catfish was caught here with many other species such as bass, sunfish and crappie. Other recreational facilities are available, such as a volleyball pit, a miniature golf course, a disc golf course and a splash pad. Hunters reserve spaces during their favorite seasons: deer, fowl and bear. Oklahoma policy allows spaces to be reserved as far as a year in advance. Peak times are usually October and June. This park is a great place for a last summer adventure or even a Christmas vacation.
The area holds other easily reached attractions such as rodeos, the Ouachita Mountains and forests and local festivals. Many visitors enjoy long drives viewing fall foliage. An especially interesting stop is Runestone Park, the site of a probable Viking Runestone carved long before Christopher Columbus “discovered” America. In fact, Gloria Farley was among the first to methodically research and dispute Columbus being the first European to find the continent with other possibilities being the Egyptians, the Phoenicians and Greeks who far proceeded Columbus.
Chris began his career at 18 working at a summer camp. He was employed by the YMCA for many years with his last position being the director of a YMCA summer camp in Georgia. One of his contributions was developing survival and environmental classes that aligned with Georgia school curriculum guidelines so that classes were solidly academic and curriculum-based. Chris entered the Park service a year ago and is planning on revising and updating that curriculum to meet Oklahoma standards and environments. The vision is for students to come by bus loads for three trips with a round robin progression through instructional activities such as canoeing and Oklahoma wildlife. Students will pay a very reasonable fee for attendance, a source of revenue for the park and a chance to reintroduce today’s youth to our natural environment, hopefully creating interest in both the environment and learning.
Another current park improvement thrust is more technology-controlled business management. The result will be online access for reservations when convenient for future guests and new management practices that should decrease paperwork and management workload, a critical improvement because every park employee works as a team member. Some days all hands are on deck for litter pickup or debris removal, a huge and still ongoing process after the 2019 flooding.
“We are like a family and help whenever and wherever we are needed,” Chris explained.
Park Ranger Angela Bohanon agrees.
“We all work as a team and flip hats often.”
Angela has been working at the park for nearly two years, though she has 15-years of experience in Oklahoma State Parks. The job suits her well because she is not strictly law enforcement, but also able to promote Oklahoma through interactions with campers and helping with programs. The park features several annual events such as the Trail of Treats for Halloween, Dutch oven cooking classes and Lights on the Island for Christmas sponsored by the Poteau Chamber of Commerce with Santa located in the park office for photo ops.
Watch for online registration and put this on your list as a place to go. The trip is well worth the miles.