(The following is a press release by the Oklahoma Tourism and Parks Department in response to the Poteau Chamber of Commerce’s press release concerning the threat of the Christmas Light display at Wister Lake being shut down. Here is the Chamber’s release.)
The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department responded Thursday to a press release from the Poteau Chamber of Commerce.
“The Christmas lights at Lake Wister State Park are viewed by 6,000 visitors every year. However, at a time when OTRD has endured 22 percent budget cuts, the Division of State Parks has been forced to cut expenses that are not essential to its core mission,” said Deby Snodgrass, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. “In 2011, the park had 245,019 visitors. Its budget was $643,989 while revenue was only $175,541; that represents a loss of almost half a million dollars. Our new park manager, Deb Reininger, is working hard to improve self-sufficiency. For that reason, we have left two full-time positions vacant and are utilizing seasonal workers that will not be employed by the park when labor is needed to work on Christmas light displays. The full-time employees utilize the off-season to work on maintenance and repair of the park.
“When we were contacted by the Poteau Chamber last year, we explained the agency’s budgetary constraints. In a spirit of goodwill, we agreed to work with them on the light displays, but gave them advanced notice that 2011 would be the last year that park staff would be able to assist them. The Tourism Department and the Division of State Parks understand the lights are important to the people of LeFlore County for economic, social and cultural reasons.
“If the Poteau and Wister communities can find volunteers to set up the displays and maintain them during the holiday season, we are more than willing to allow them to utilize the park property and provide the group that’s installing the lights a park contact for guidance in answering questions pertaining to electrical and breakers to help ensure everyone’s safety,” said Snodgrass. “We simply don’t have the funds to pay for new lights, replacement bulbs, electricity or labor. We are hopeful the Chamber will be able to cover the labor needed with volunteers and the expenses with donations from local businesses and those who visit the light displays during the holiday season.”