Top regional officials of the National Park Service met with leaders of the Chickasaw Nation in late June to explore new forms of collaboration between the tribe and Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

During the meetings NPS and tribal leaders discussed:

n "Co-location" of park staff in the tribal visitor center now under construction in Sulphur

n Gateway community to the national recreation area

n Construction of a proposed bridge over Rock Creek from the tribe's Chickasaw Cultural Center "campus" to the park.

"Given that the relationship between the park and the Chickasaw Nation is more than a century old, the concept of close cooperation between the park and the tribe is just a natural thing," said John Wessels, director of the NPS's Intermountain Region. "On behalf of the National Park Service, I look forward to deepening and continuing the long and fruitful relationship we have enjoyed with the Chickasaw Nation."

Wessels and IMR Deputy Director Colin Campbell traveled to Oklahoma June 26 from their offices in Denver to meet with Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby and other tribal official. The visit included tours of the tribe's new projects in Sulphur.

In a subsequent meeting with park employees that day, Wessels affirmed that all park service staff in Sulphur will continue to remain under NPS employment.

Wessels described the meetings with the Chickasaw Nation as "the latest in a series of meetings since 2009, when the tribe expressed interest in sharing in the management of the national park."

He said the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act provides for negotiation between American Indian tribes and the Department of the Interior, which includes the park service.

Wessels said the discussions are not at the stage of agreement for direct shared management. But he noted many common interests between the park and the Chickasaw Nation that make a close working relationship very desirable and productive.

Wessels assigned Bruce Noble, superintendent of Chickasaw National Recreation Area and Oklahoma state coordinator for NPS, to explore stationing park staff in the tribe's new visitor center. Wessels also expressed support for construction of a foot and bicycle bridge from the tribe's 109-acre cultural center complex to the park.

Also Wessels said he "welcomed the opportunity for the park and tribe to exchange interpretive programs."