It has become increasing apparent to me that the Department of Tourism and Recreation has forgotten what its core mission really is and the history behind the establishment of state parks. As a former chairman of the House Tourism and Recreation committee, I am fully aware that the mission of the Department of Tourism is to help attract tourist and visitors to our state in the hopes they will infuse money into our local and state economy. Area parks and museums give people an opportunity to have recreation and historical opportunities with their family and friends.
I find it alarming that the department continue to point out that the parks do not make a profit. They were never intended to make a profit. Parks were established to provide Oklahomans with a place to take their families and protect a portion of our natural beauty for all our citizens. In addition, tourism officials point out that every dollar we spend on tourism generates seven dollars back into our economy. It is not to generate revenue for the Department of Tourism. With that logic in mind, the budgeted 643,989 dollars for Wister Lake has a fiscal impact of 4.5 million dollars in the local economy. That is certainly a revenue enhancer for Oklahoma with such an investment.
As to the issue of the Lights at Wister Lake, the Director of Tourism has been given misinformation. The Lights at the park was established to bring people to the park during the slow portion of the year infusing life in a dormant park. Secondly, the lights have been purchased by private donations and grant money costing the Department nothing from their budget. All replacement lights, new displays and electricity have been paid for by donations from individuals who enjoy the display. In addition, the administration of the funds and payment of the expenses is handled by the Leflore County Economic Development Coalition. Historically, the maintenance in the park was done following the Christmas Season and the employees contributed to the display with approximately four weeks of labor to put up and take down the display.
I have never witnessed an agency that completely ignores the wishes of the people to whom they serve. It is our tax money that supports the park system and employees who help provide these services. The opinion of the taxpayers should matter more than the bureaucrats who run the system. If this was a private business we would cater to the needs of our customers to continue to have a relationship with them. Whatever happen to the customer is always right? Or better yet, the taxpayers are always right.
(Editor’s note: Kenneth Corn is a former state representative and senator)