Crystal Lake was a dumping ground.
Tires. Cars. Roof shingles. Mattresses. Even a dead man was dumped at the lake two years ago.
The old sand pit near SW 15th and MacArthur had become a spot for drug use and other illegal activity
“It was kind of creepy, really,” said Oklahoma City bass angler Steve Wise, who works nearby and often fishes at Crystal Lake. “When it got dark, it was time to get out.”
But that was before City Care, a nonprofit organization that cares for the poor and homeless in Oklahoma City, started overseeing the lake.
With the help of Oklahoma County crews and local businesses, City Care is giving Crystal Lake a major face-lift.
Larry Bross, executive director of City Care, wants Crystal Lake to be an outdoor haven for inner city kids, a place where they can go outside in the summer and learn to fish, shoot a bow and how to identify wildlife and plants. The pilot project is called City Kid Outdoors.
“It's going to be outdoor educational, not recreational,” Bross said of the project. “We are not going to have a basketball court. We are not going to have ropes course. It's my hope to keep this primitive.”
City Care is very familiar with the struggles that face many children growing up in the inner city.
Through its Whiz Kids program, City Care helps inner city kids learn to read by providing one-on-one tutoring.
More than 1,400 volunteers from 57 churches, including about 900 tutors and mentors, are the backbone of City Care, which works with 26 public schools.
While many children who live in the suburbs go to camps in the summers, kids in the inner city don't have the same opportunities, said Bross, who hopes to organize a day camp for inner city kids this summer at Crystal Lake.
Bross is very familiar with Crystal Lake because it is where City Care holds its end of the year celebration for the Whiz Kids each year. In recent years, it grieved Bross to see how the lake became a dump.
Last year when Oklahoma City officials were looking for someone to manage Crystal Lake, Bross had an idea similar to one that his friend, Larry Stinchcomb of Big Bass Charities, envisioned for the lake more than a decade ago.
In the late 1990s, Stinchcomb, the charity's executive director, obtained a long-term lease at Crystal Lake. The Oklahoma City sportsmen planned to develop the Crystal Lake Outdoor Heritage Complex, a place where underprivileged youngsters could learn how to fish and gain other outdoor skills.
However, Stinchcomb died in 2000 and his dream for Crystal Lake died with him. Crystal Lake was neglected for many years until Boss and City Care resurrected Stinchcomb's idea.
In the past year, county work crews and volunteers spent months mowing and removing trash and other debris from the lake, including 2,200 old tires.
A cable barrier now surrounds the lake and it is closed at night. City Care also placed a caretaker at the lake to keep a watchful eye throughout the day and night.
City Care also has more improvements planned for the lake. Bill Richardson Homes is matching a grant from the Sarkey's Foundation to build a pavilion and bathrooms.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is partnering with City Care to develop hiking and nature trails. The MAPS III trails project is scheduled to go by Crystal Lake.
Jeff Steele, owner of Arrowhead Archery in Del City, recently organized the Crystal Lake Archery Club to help maintain an archery range now in place for public use.
It also will be used to teach the sport to inner city kids. The archery range also has a shooting tower so bow hunters can simulate shooting from an elevated stand.
A 3-D archery tournament is scheduled at the lake June 23-24 to raise money for City Kid Outdoors. Another 3-D archery tournament is scheduled July 14-15.
As far as fishing, the lake has channel catfish, bass, crappie and sunfish. Bass fishing is catch and release only. Wise caught and released a 6½-pound largemouth bass from the lake last week.
Anglers can keep six channel cats per day and the lake has a handicap accessible fishing dock.
Crystal Lake is open to the public but large groups must schedule events through City Care. Overnight camping is allowed by reservation only.
“The goal out here at Crystal Lake is provide a safe place for people in Oklahoma City to come out and enjoy the outdoors,” said Bross, who played football for the University of Oklahoma in the late '60 and early '70s.
“It's so close for inner city kids. The cool thing about this lake it is only 15 minutes from the inner city. There is so much potential.”
What: 20 target 3-D shoot
Where: Crystal Lake
When: June 23-24
Cost: $15 for first round and $10 for additional rounds. Ages 12 and younger shoot free.
Books open at 8 a.m. both days and close at 3 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tournament benefits City Kid Outdoors.
For more information, call Arrowhead Archery at 670-2697 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Crystal Lake, call 826-4735.