State tourism officials are considering plans for an outdoor sports shooting complex at Lake Murray State Park, the oldest, largest and most popular state park in Oklahoma.
The proposal has generated some complaints that a gun range could disturb the ambiance of the park.
The shooting range, modeled after one being built in South Carolina, would be located next to a new state lodge now under construction in the 12,500-acre park.
Tourism and Recreation Department Executive Director Dick Dutton confirmed the proposal to Oklahoma Watch, saying the project would need to be considered and approved by the Oklahoma Tourism Commission.
The shooting complex is being proposed by the National Wild Turkey Federation, which is building the South Carolina facility.
“We have been approached by the National Wild Turkey Federation to put a contest and shooting range in there, but no decision has been made on that yet. It’s just talk right now,” Dutton said.
He said the proposal was presented by Bill Buckner, president and CEO of the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, based in Ardmore, and an official from an Ardmore economic development group. Buckner serves on the board of the National Wild Turkey Federation; he could not be reached for comment.
The proposal comes at a time when the state Department of Tourism and Recreation has suffered deep funding cuts, raising the prospect that some parks could be closed.
Founded in 1925 and built with the help of the Depression-era Works Progress Authority, Lake Murray lies south of Ardmore and east of Interstate 35. It was named for former Gov. William H. Murray, also known as “Alfalfa Bill,” who first sought creation of the lake.
The prospect of gunshot sounds piercing the quiet in a state park has prompted some complaints from local residents, Dutton said. Nearly 1.5 million people visited the park last year. However, Dutton said, some business owners in the area support the project.
Johnson Bridgewater, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, questioned the placement of a gun range in a state park.
“In our mind, the designation of a body of land as a state park – its purpose – is to give people a place to get away from everyday life, a tranquil place, and a place to commune with nature,” Bridgewater said. “We don’t see that particular issue as being compatible with overall use of state park land.”
Dutton said the history of the park is also factor in deciding whether to approve the shooting complex.
“There are several issues, historical issues, and since it was all Native American land at one time, there are archeological issues that have to be addressed before anything moves forward,” Dutton said.
The proposed facility would be similar to the one being built in Edgefield, S.C., at the headquarters of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Called the Palmetto Shooting Complex, the facility is a partnership between the federation and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. It features skeet and trap shooting and pistol and rifle ranges in addition to archery.
“It’s a great facility. I wish we could get it in the state, period,” Dutton said.
He said the South Carolina shooting range will have large earthen berms that muffle the noise and provide protection. Those could be considered for an Oklahoma facility.
Still, issues must be addressed.
“When we build the lodge down there – and we’re going to probably have close to $25 million invested in it by the time it’s all said and done – I don’t want to run my customers off,” Dutton said.
Construction of the new lodge was approved in August 2014 and is expected to be completed in August 2016.