Last year at Walnut Creek State Park, 30 minutes west of Tulsa on Keystone Lake, revenues hit $51,000. But expenses were nearly three times higher, at $150,000.
With a budget deficit that large, and the much more popular Keystone State Park less than 20 miles away, Walnut Creek became a luxury the state of Oklahoma could no longer afford, officials announced this week.
The park may close Sept. 1, when the state will terminate its lease with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lease would have expired in 2015 anyway, and the state had no plan to renew it, officials said. But ending the lease early will save the state $100,000.
“Visitation and revenue were very low,” said Leslie Blair, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation.
“And there was not a lot of opportunity to increase that revenue.”
State budget cuts have slashed the Tourism Department’s funding by 26 percent since 2009, Blair said. And the department may close or sell three other properties across northeast Oklahoma — Little Blue-Disney State Park, 90 minutes northeast of Tulsa at Grand Lake; Snowdale State Park, an hour east of Tulsa at Lake Hudson; and the Spring River canoe trails near Miami, Oklahoma.
“Options are being discussed,” Blair said, “but nothing has been decided” about those locations.
Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers has three options for Walnut Creek — keep it open with federal funding; find a nonfederal agency to operate the park; or close it.
“The ultimate goal,” according to a statement from the Corps, “is to keep the park open and operational for the visiting public.”