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Strong attendance at Oklahoma's state parks despite heat, drought and water issues

A photo of a landscape covered in golden grass dotted with yucca, green shrubs and a few pale rocks. The picture is taken from a small hill in the foreground. Past a small valley, a mesa rises against a cloudy blue sky and extends off-screen to the right.
Chris M
Wikimedia Commons
Black Mesa State Park went without water while its well underwent repairs.

Black Mesa State Park in the panhandle is without water while its well undergoes repairs. But even through this summer’s heat, drought and water problems, your state parks are doing fine, Oklahoma.

Hikers can still visit the park at Black Mesa while its well is out of service, but they’ll need to come prepared with their own water. The nearest water source is 40 miles away, so it’s best to overestimate how much you’ll need to pack.

“It is just important to keep hydrated and make sure you don't get heat exhaustion or heat stroke,” said Rylie Mansuetti with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. “Especially in areas like Black Mesa, where it is more rural and care might take longer.”

Black Mesa State Park announced that its well was down on July 25. They hope to have the well back up and running as soon as the pumps and some pipes are replaced. The park has a second well, but it’s not in working order after going unused for more than seven years. The park hopes to repair both wells so they won’t be left without water again.

Black Mesa isn’t the only Oklahoma state park experiencing water-related problems this summer.

At Quartz Mountain, Lake Altus-Lugert’s reservoir storage is less than a quarter full, according to data from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. Turner Falls closed the diving board and slide at its popular Blue Hole swimming area due to low water levels. A wildfire burned around 20,000 acres near Boiling Springs State Park last week, and a small part of Grand Lake has been home to a blue-green algae bloom for almost a month.

But these challenges haven’t kept visitors away.

“June 2022 saw over 45,000 park visits, which is really incredible,” Mansuetti said. That’s a 23 percent increase from June of last year. “Based on our booking numbers, we're very optimistic that the parks will continue to have strong visitation for us this summer.”

For people planning visits to any of Oklahoma’s state parks, Mansuetti recommends checking the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department’s website for up-to-date information on blue-green algae blooms, fishing conditions and burn bans.

Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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