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Oklahoma's oldest resort town is the state's newest cool spot with big mention in national magazine


Nicole Hill June 17th, 2010

Locals describe Medicine Park as a mix of Mayberry, "The Twilight Zone" and "Northern Exposure."Intrigued yet?Budget Travel magazine was. Medicine Park recently ranked No. 9 on the mag's list of "Amer...

MedicinePark-OldPlantation100_0292mh_7-06x9-42cm
Locals describe Medicine Park as a mix of Mayberry, "The Twilight Zone" and "Northern Exposure."

Intrigued yet?

Budget Travel magazine was. Medicine Park recently ranked No. 9 on the mag's list of "America's Coolest Small Towns." Out of the 147 towns nominated, 21 were selected as finalists, profiles of which will run in the magazine's September issue.

With just less than 400 residents, "America's Cobblestone Community" has all the basic necessities to be cool: a thriving arts scene, historic cobblestone buildings, the backdrop of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and Medicine Creek (plus its trout fishing) running through the center of town. Add to that the $2 beer specials on Tuesday nights at the local winery.

Perfect, no?

"When you get close to here, the stress just starts falling away," said resident Candace McCoy, who owns McCoy Development Inc. with her husband. "Right now, I'm sitting out on a porch swing, listening to the birds outside on the water. How great is that to work in an environment like that?"

It's that tranquil, yet quirky vibe that David Lott, a local publicist and graphic designer, wanted to share with the rest of the country.

Lott, the author of the forthcoming book, "Medicine Park: Oklahoma's First Resort," spearheaded the effort to get Medicine Park on the radar.

Lott said he stumbled onto the Budget Travel contest " which looked for towns with less than 10,000 people, on the upswing and with an edge " last October and sent in the nomination form. He then used contacts at The Lawton Constitution and a Lawton television station, sent out press releases and started rallying support.

And 439,411 votes later, the tiny town that could was sitting pretty in the top 10, a little more than 100 years since it sprang up out of the Oklahoma red dirt.

Medicine Park was founded on the Fourth of July in 1908 by Sen. Elmer Thomas to serve as Oklahoma's first planned resort town. Business boomed in the place, where the likes of Will Rogers, Wiley Post and Bob Wills mixed with Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde and Al Capone.

But at the onset of the Great Depression and World War II, the town began to sink into decline. After decades of neglect, a modern-day renaissance began in Medicine Park with a revitalization and restoration movement in the '90s. Old staples like the Riverside Café and The Old Plantation Restaurant were re-opened and restored, new buildings popped up with the same signature style, and artists-in-residence began to settle en masse.

"It kind of looks like it fell asleep and is just waking up," McCoy said.

Development isn't slowing down, either. A new downtown, replete with a hotel, restaurants and room for events, is in the works, as well as a wildlife museum and aquarium slated to open in summer 2012. But residents say even with continued growth, they won't let Medicine Park lose the same charm it's always had " where policemen know your name, the fire department equals your neighbors and the whole town gathers round for a potluck supper.

"In the 10 years I've been going down there, I've not met one person that lived there that I didn't like (or) that I felt was not a nice person," said Randy Bradley, a Norman resident and Medicine Park frequenter.

With this in mind, the town is poised to enter Budget Travel's 2011 contest, and this time they're looking for the top spot. Lott said he hopes the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department will jump on the bandwagon this time, something he and others feel did not happen this year.

Bradley said he wanted to help the effort when Lott entered the contest last year, so he wrote letters to the tourism department and the governor. No response. He said he wishes the state had realized the potential economic impact of such national exposure.

The department, however, said it did promote the contest, sending e-mails and posting several reminders to vote on its Twitter and Facebook accounts.

"So we did promote it," said Leslie Blair, public information officer for the department. "We're very excited for Medicine Park. It's a great recognition for them. Any time we get national recognition for one of our Oklahoma towns, that's fabulous. Medicine Park's definitely an up-and-coming destination, and we are thrilled to see them get some recognition."

Regardless, Medicine Park residents think word is bound to get out somehow.

"I just want to say Medicine Park rocks, and we're one of Oklahoma's best-kept secrets," Lott said. "But not for long."

photo/The Old Plantation building is made of cobblestones.
 
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