If you've ever heard or spoken the familiar phrase, “out with the old — in with the new,” you're in for a pleasant surprise the next time you visit Lake Murray State Park near Ardmore. Not only are there a lot of new features in the park, but the old ones are better than ever.
Lake Murray is Oklahoma's first state park, established in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal plan. It is one of many national and state parks built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) with the intent to revitalize our valuable land by creating parks to be enjoyed by the public.
The first impression visitors have upon arrival is the beauty of the lush landscape and the clear aqua waters of the lake that surround Oklahoma's largest state park. The most visible reminder of the history of Lake Murray is Tucker Tower, perched atop the rocky landscape, similar to a lighthouse that beckons wayward guests.
“This is a very prominent fixture for the people of Oklahoma,” said park naturalist Mark Teders. “People have been coming to the tower since they were little children, and their parents even visited when they were young.”
For many years, Tucker Tower served as a nature center that housed displays and artifacts. The celebrated building began showing signs of wear and was closed for more than a year while undergoing structural improvement and renovations.
Recently reopened, the tower is no longer a nature center, but serves as a focal point dedicated to the history of the CCC and Works Progress Administration (WPA.) Present displays include life-size replicas of workers, the tools and machinery they used and wall mounted posters with details explaining the life of a CCC recruit and the roles they played in building the park.
Although the building is a centerpiece of a bygone era, most people still come to the tower to climb the circular metal staircase that leads to the roof, and a spectacular panoramic view of the lake from atop the park's the highest point.
While the glory of the past is reflected in Tucker Tower, the vision of the present is evident at the new park Nature Center located at the base of the tower. The recently completed structure blends in with the theme of Lake Murray and the existing park buildings.
“It's a very interesting shape, not an outrageous modern-type structure,” Teders said about the nature center's architecture. “There's a lot of glass that gives us natural light and the sense of being outside, not in a building. Plus, our focus is all about the water, the quality and conservation of water. You can see the lake from almost every side.”
The solid interior walls also offer a picturesque canvas that includes a diorama of the layers of rock found in the region and species of trees in the surrounding forests. The hallway walls feature a three-dimensional, colorful mural with fish, turtles and underwater inhabitants.
Educational stations are prominently located throughout the center and offer visitors a hands-on, self-guided opportunity to explore. However, specific classes that focus on nature and the environment are available for groups of all ages, with instruction by Teders and his assistant. In addition to the educational aspect, the nature center was built with energy efficient and eco-friendly amenities in mind.
“We have solar panels (mounted on the roof) and they are wonderful,” Teders said. “Our electric bills have been at a minimum and we have actually seen our meter running backwards.”
On this 80th anniversary, Oklahoma's first and largest state park is not just older, it's also better.
For more information about Oklahoma State Parks, Lodges and Golf Courses, visit TravelOK.com