McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

August 28, 2013

Council gives nod to Choctaw village in Old Town's Hutchison Park

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — The city of  McAlester took a major step Tuesday night down a path leading to the recreation of a traditional Choctaw village in a city park.

McAlester city councilors voted unanimously to authorize a change in the re-purposing of Hutchison Park “to accommodate a Choctaw Village.” Councilors took the vote during their regular meeting in the council chambers at City Hall.

Plans call for the city to partner with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, the Old Town Association and local volunteers on the project at the park, at Fourth Street and Krebs Avenue, on the city’s north side.

Those working on the project hope to have made substantial progress in time for the upcoming Wild West Festival set for Oct. 5 in Old Town.

Before the council voted, McAlester News-Capital Publisher Amy Johns spoke in support of the measure. She said a group of individuals had recently visited her office and introduced her to their hopes of constructing a traditional Choctaw village in McAlester.

“It piqued my interest and it excited my passionate side,” Johns said.

Some of things planned for the village included a stage, a dance area, a fire pit, a traditional Choctaw dwelling, a mound, used for summer dwellings, a pottery area, and a stickball field.

Johns said the Old Town Association has agreed to maintain the site.

She also listed a number of reasons why the city council should support the project, including no cost to the city; it will utilize volunteers coming together to work on the project; it will provide a year-round opportunity for learning about the Choctaw Nation’s heritage; it has the potential for holding weekend events for bringing visitors  to McAlester; and the Old town Association will care for the grounds.

“This is a project to get behind,” Johns said.

Before the council voted, Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith asked Ward 5 Councilor Buddy Garvin, whose Ward includes Old Town and Hutchison Park, if he supported the project.

“I’m behind it 100 percent,” Garvin said. He said in each area of the city, parks are starting to reflect different aspects of culture.

“This project will really enhance North McAlester,” said Garvin.

“Hutchison Park is a perfect, perfect location,” Garvin said. “I support it 110 percent.”

Ward 6 Councilor and Vice Mayor Sam Mason also said he supported the project, He said he did want the city to obtain a letter signed by Eddie Gray, of the Old Town Association, setting for the group’s commitment to maintain the site.

Mayor Steve Harrison said he thinks the project is a great idea.

“I look forward to the first events,” he said.

Pam Kirby, Community Development c coordinator for the city, noted there are only four weekends left prior to the Oct. 5 Wild West Festival in Old Town, so volunteers will need to come together soon to start work on  the site, More information about a work day will be made available as plans are completed.

“By Oct. 5, we want to have some of the arbors up and the stickball field ready,” she said, referring to some of the early phases of the project.

Plans are to use the Tobucksy Courthouse building already at the park as a welcoming and educational center, she said.

She said she will be working closely with the Choctaw Nation on the project.

“The Choctaws will have complete control over the authenticity of everything in the park,” she said. Kirby is also eyeing a site where saplings could be cut down to use as some of the fencing and for the traditional Choctaw dwelling in the park.

Johns said Wednesday she’s glad to see the project move forward.

“I’m very proud the city council agreed the Choctaw Village is an amazing project for our community,” Johns said.

“I look forward to working with other community volunteers to make this project a reality.”

 Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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