State and local officials gathered Wednesday at the Nature Center at Lake Murray for a ribbon cutting and meeting of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. Prior to the ribbon cutting, officials toured the center, which opened its doors to the public earlier this year.

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb said after viewing the park's scenery and seeing the center, he thought it was appropriate to say something profound.

"Awesome," Lamb said before he cut the ribbon.

It was a sentiment shared by many seeing the center for the first time. Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) said the center was one of the projects that benefit the area.

"This is really a tremendous asset to southern Oklahoma and this great park," Ownbey said. "And you add this to the new lodge which will be here in 2015...

"This was a dream of Bryce Todd, and shows the kind of leadership he has. He led the way on this."

Todd served as the Lake Murray State Park manager as well as at the state level.

"The vision began several years ago, mainly because our nature center in Tucker Tower was not ADA (American Disabilities Act) accessible," Todd said. "We came up with the idea of putting this in the Tucker Tower parking lot.

"I worked for this department for 35 years, and this is the cherry top. I've been involved in centers at other parks, but this is home. It is in a class of its own as far as state parks go."

Lake Murray Park naturalist Mark Teder said the center has been well received since it opened, with an increase in program participation.

"The feedback has been 99.4 percent wonderful," Teder said. "A few people have complained because they think we took the tower down and they can't get to it. But other than that, it has been great. We have a 1,000 percent increase in our programs because it's easier to got to and you don't have to walk up the steps to the tower."

Teder said the location of the center is more conducive for youth fishing programs, which are among the highlights of the services offered.

"We take them almost every week, and most of the kids have never caught a fish," Teder said, adding that few aspects of the job rival seeing a kid who has caught that first fish.

Tucker Tower remains open as an exhibit depicting the history of the lake as well as other items. The ground breaking for the new lodge will take place in the upcoming weeks, beginning a new project which sets the park apart from other state parks.

"I think this is the first page of many we will turn at Lake Murray," said Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore). "I think we are really turning Lake Murray into the crown jewel of our state parks in Oklahoma."

Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill) paid tribute to state officials for their role in bringing the vision of a new nature center to fruition.

"I want to thank Oklahoma State Parks and Recreation secretary (Deby) Snodgrass for her leadership in making the area of our state a jewel in our state parks system," Hardin said. "Lt. Gov. Lamb has been a great help in ensuring our area of the state doesn't lose anymore tourism dollars."