After two days of meetings in late October, the Chickasaw Nation and the National Park Service are closer to formalizing proposals to share visitor-related initiatives at and near the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Dan Winings, CNRA spokesman, says teams led by Neal McCaleb, Chickasaw Nation ambassador-at-large, and Colin Campbell, NPS Intermountain Region deputy director, met Oct. 24-25.
Topics discussed included:
n Plans to go forward with the tribe's proposal to build a footbridge across Rock Creek to connect the Chickasaw Cultural Center to the park and allow greater sharing of visitors. The Chickasaw Nation would pay for the proposed span, and the NPS will conduct required federal environmental assessment and public review of the potential effects of the project. Two designs – a truss-style span and a suspension bridge – are under consideration.
n Future "co-location" of NPS staff in the tribe's newly opened Chickasaw Visitor Center in downtown Sulphur. The NPS has committed to having staff in the center, which could allow for a greater and more direct connection with incoming visitors at the virtual doorstep of the CNRA. The arrangement also could serve as a new contact station for visitors to conduct park business (boating permits, camping reservation, etc.) more conveniently in a more central location.
n Possible joint operations in the Chickasaw Visitor Center gift shop. Merchandise provided by the national park's non-profit bookstore sales partner, the Western National Parks Association, potentially could be displayed and sold alongside tribal shop items.
n Sharing and exchange of NPS and Chickasaw Cultural Center interpretive staff, possibly to conduct visitor enrichment programs in each other's facilities.
n The question of potential future sharing of park management. Initial discussions about a Chickasaw Nation stake in helping run the recreation area have touched on a variety of operations, such as campground management. Although the NPS will not commit to shared management at this time, discussions have opened and will continue.
"Both the National Park Service and the Chickasaw Nation agree on the practical benefits of working together to attract more visitors to Chickasaw National Recreation Area and the tribal lands that surround it," Campbell says. "Our relationship with the tribe is more than a century old. We remain committed to continued collaboration with the Chickasaw Nation for the protection and enjoyment of Oklahoma's oldest national park site, an important natural and cultural asset for all."
Last month's meetings were the latest in a series of meetings since 2009, when the Chickasaw Nation expressed interest in sharing in the park's management. 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. Campbell says that although the discussions are not at a stage of agreement for direct shared management, many common interests between the park and the Chickasaw Nation continue to make a close working relationship vital and productive.