TAHLEQUAH, Okla. -- Fifteen years after the Cherokee Nation received nearly 800 acres in Sequoyah County from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the tribe's Natural Resources is making improvements on the land for a recreational area.
"The Cherokee Nation was given some surplus land in Sequoyah County by the Corps of Engineers in 1998. It's just a little under 800 acres, and it's adjacent to the Arkansas River and the Kerr Lake reservoir," CN Administration Liaison Pat Gwin said.
The corps once used the land for a recreational area that consisted of picnic areas, boat ramps, fishing areas and camping sites maintained and operated by the state. The property has five recreational outlets on the lake and river. Four are no longer used, but Natural Resources maintains the fifth one. This site has camping areas, a boat ramp, picnic tables and fishing areas, which CN work crews are improving.
"When the corps deemed the land surplus, the land came to us in 1998 with the stipulation (to) have one of those recreational areas for a time period of five years, which we did. Even after that agreement expired in 2003, to this date we've kept the recreational facility open," Gwin said.
That recreational area is called Sallisaw Creek Park. However, there are plans to rename it because it often gets confused with another Sallisaw Creek Park about five miles away, Natural Resources Manager G.V. Gulager said.
The CN-operated park is located about four miles south of I-40 on Dwight Mission Road.
"Currently, we have it open to the public and it's free of charge. It's something the Cherokee Nation is proud to have. We're in the process of opening more of the park, doing more work here and creating more activity here," Gulager said.
He said the tribe wants to eventually bring in revenue from the park and other areas. Gulager said the tribe is paying for improvements while not collecting any fees from the public for using the park.
"I think it's going to come to that point, and it's been expressed by the (Tribal) council and by the chief that we're going to have to do something," he said.
Gulager said with more people learning of the park, it can become crowded, especially with boaters. That means the CN must provide more security, sanitation facilities, electricity and water for those crowds, which costs money, he said.
"The Cherokee Nation can bear the brunt a little bit, but when it becomes a major issue for our finances we're going to have to look for other resources, and the resources should come from the people that's enjoying this park," he said.
Gulager added that with other recreational areas in Oklahoma being closed by budget constraints, more people are coming to Sallisaw Creek Park. And because it's free, the site is attractive for people wishing to camp, fish and boat, he said.
Park improvements include placing electricity at some campsites, improving roads and adding streetlights. Gulager said wells are on the property for water and more may be dug with the water quality monitored by the tribe's environmental group. He said he wants to improve restroom facilities, and shelters would soon be placed over picnic tables.
"That's our main concern this winter and this spring, to get more water to various locations so that it will be adequate for everybody to camp," he said.
Another improvement is the addition of a walking and horse-riding trail, which gives people a chance to view the area's beauty. Gulager said the trail has only been open about a month and already more than 240 horse riders have ridden it.
"What we're trying to do is make more recreation for everybody," he said. "The natural setting makes it beautiful. It's a wonderful part of the Cherokee Nation. In 14-county area, this is one the best looking places to come and enjoy."