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Some Rural Lawmakers Unhappy with New Entrance Fees at Oklahoma State Parks

Visit McCurtain County

Entrance fees introduced at 22 Oklahoma state parks in June have displeased some lawmakers.

They were the subject of an interim study this week, and representatives of impoverished districts complained their constituents are being shut out of their main source of entertainment.

Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Executive Director Jerry Winchester said the fees are necessary to keep the park system from falling into total disrepair. Winchester said the agency needs $40 million a year to maintain $1 billion in assets, but they’ve been spending $10 million.

Winchester also noted state appropriations to the agency have fallen 64% since fiscal year 2009.

"Our whole goal was to how can we raise money without showing back up to this building and lamenting about,'Oh, we don’t have an idea, but we know we have a big problem,'" Winchester said.

Rep. Johnny Tadlock (R-Idabel) said many in his district now can’t afford to visit Broken Bow Lake in Beavers Bend State Park.

"Ultimately, what you’re saying is that it’s alright to charge, you know, us out of the park and you still provide the people here that doesn’t even live here in the state to enjoy something that we’ve enjoyed all of our life — we’ve enjoyed all our life, you’ve cut us out of it," Tadlock said.

Rep. Lundy Kiger (R-Poteau) requested the study and suggested legislation giving low-income Oklahomans free or steeply discounted admission.

Currently, Oklahoma residents get a 20% discount on the park fees. Oklahomans who are disabled, seniors or veterans get bigger discounts.

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