McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

October 12, 2013

Shutdown sends ripples through Sulphur economy

Sulphur — As the owner of the Arbuckle RV Resort, Dick Duhn relies heavily on two tourist attractions: the Chickasaw Cultural Center and the Lake of the Arbuckles.

When one of those attractions closes, Duhn’s business is bound to suffer.

The Lake of the Arbuckles is part of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur, which closed earlier this month when the federal government partially shut down.

The shutdown prompted park rangers to block access to recreational areas — including the lake — and post signs announcing that the park is closed until further notice. The park’s website is down, and employees have been furloughed.

Duhn said October is normally a great month for camping because the weather is pleasant and people want to enjoy a weekend at the lake. But if the lake is closed, people are less likely to stay at the RV park.

“The lake’s a huge draw — a huge draw,” he said in an Oct. 7 interview. “And with that being closed — well, let’s say there wasn’t a lake there. There wouldn’t be an RV park here.”

Tourist traffic

Sulphur’s economy is starting to feel the pinch from the shutdown, which entered its 11th day Friday.

The shutdown has caused problems for people who need access to basic government services, including visitors to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. The park is part of the National Park Service system, run by the federal government.

People can still drive through the park on state Highway 177, which remains open. But visitors cannot hike along the trails, eat lunch in one of the picnic shelters or fish in the lake.

The Sulphur Chamber of Commerce is fielding calls from people who wanted to host birthday parties, family reunions or other activities in the park, said executive director Shelly Sawatzky. Since the park is temporarily closed, Chamber staffers are recommending other recreational areas, such as Turner Falls Park in Davis.

Sawatzky said people are still visiting Murray County for other activities, such as the recent Chickasaw Nation’s Annual Meeting and Festival.

“We still have people coming into the Cultural Center, and we have people coming into the county to go to Turner Falls, to go ziplining and all the ATVing at Cross Bar Ranch — all of those other activities,” she said. “But if people are wanting to come fish, if they’re wanting to hike the trails, if they’re wanting to camp here at Chickasaw National Recreation Area — those are the people that are really impacted.”

The park plays a major role in the area’s economy, according to a recent study by the National Park Service. The study found that park visitors spent $22.2 million on fuel, groceries and other services in 2012.

The park typically draws close to 3,500 visitors a day in October, and officials have estimated that the park will lose $2,000 each day in camping fees during the shutdown.

Visitors aren’t the only people feeling the impact of the shutdown. The National Park Service has furloughed 21,000 employees altogether, including more than 30 workers at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

Park employees contribute to the area’s economy when they buy food or groceries, whether they live in Sulphur or another community, Sawatzky said. But those workers may be less interested in spending money in light of the shutdown.

“As a result, because they don’t have a paycheck coming in, they’re probably not doing any additional spending,” she said. “So they’re probably not eating out. They’re not eating lunch here in town, and they’re probably not eating out at home because they don’t know when their next paycheck is coming in is my understanding.”

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