The Osage Nation has assumed control of the former Wah-Sha-She State Park in northeastern Osage County after Principal Chief John Red Eagle signed a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to maintain the park.
The 1,100-acre park west of Copan is one of seven state parks closed by the state government last year due to budget cuts. As a result of the closure, the state’s Tourism and Recreation Department partnered with some local entities to take over those affected parks. The Nation expressed interest in assuming control of the park last summer, but did not sign a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until last month.
Chief Red Eagle announced the agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the land, on May 24, and the park opened the following day – just in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Chief Red Eagle said he believes the endeavor will have a long-term positive impact on the Nation.
“Taking over this park falls directly in line with the Osage Nation’s 25-year strategic plan,” Chief Red Eagle said in a statement. “This first step with the Corps of Engineers will without a doubt spur economic development in the area, and it will improve the overall quality of life for Osage County residents.”
Located off State Highway 10, the former Wah-Sha-She State Park is on the southern shores of Lake Hulah about 26 miles northeast of Pawhuska. The lake’s name is derived from the Osage word for “eagle.” The park and lake provide camping, picnic areas, swimming, boating and fishing opportunities for those who make recreation visits to the area.
The Nation’s agreement with the Corps of Engineers cost $0 and stretches through 2016, said Chris White, executive director of governmental operations for Chief Red Eagle’s office. “At that time we’ll re-evaluate whether to lengthen the lease.”
Area residents and Osages praised the park opening announcement, but it did not go without question from the Osage Legislative Branch. The park opening comes just over a month after the Second ON Congress voted down a budget bill to support the park operations. The budget bill, ONCA 12-41, for $122,000 failed with a 6-6 tie vote.
Members of Congress, including Speaker Jerri Jean Branstetter, raised questions on how the park will be operated and whether liability insurance is available for the park. Branstetter also raised issue that Congress was not notified about the park takeover before the May 24 announcement.
Raymond Lasley, executive advisor of programs for Chief Red Eagle’s office, said the park, which will be called “Wah-Sha-She Park,” will be maintained with funding from the Properties Department budget for the remainder of the 2012 fiscal year. He said a properties staff worker who lives close to the park will work on-site and will be in charge of collecting camping fees charged to all users.
The park fees are as follows: $20 per night for camping at an improved campsite; $12 per night to camp at an unimproved campsite; and $25 per day to use a shelter at the park.
Lasley said $3 discounts will be available to Osages, military veterans and seniors who use the park.
Branstetter said she spoke with Chief Red Eagle on May 25 and said he informed her that the Executive Branch will approach Congress for park funding when the 2013 fiscal year budgets are considered in September during the Tzi-Zho Session.
“Congress was concerned with expenses and that during session there was no extra money for this (park takeover) consideration as concern of over-spending or incurring indebtedness was key priority,” Branstetter said she told Chief Red Eagle. She added the Congress was considering a special session to consider the park issue but no notice had been issued for a special session when the June issue of the Osage News went to press.
Osage resident David Lockman praised the park reopening and said he was on-hand when it opened May 25.
“I think the Osage Nation has done a wonderful thing, not only for the community but for the tribe. The park looked great when they opened the gates,” Lockman said. “My family was there when they opened the gates and we spent four days camping and fishing with family and friends. I have grown up in this park and now my kids can enjoy it and make memories with their family and kids. I would like to say Thank you to the Osage Nation for helping bring this park back to us and keep the lake alive.”