A popular natural springs park still attracts big crowds after 100 years 

It's always been about the water.

At the turn of the century, settlers sought out the healing powers of the natural mineral springs and shaded travertine formations in the wooded areas south of Oklahoma City. Flowing pure from the ground near Sulphur and Davis, the springs were rumored to cure ailments.

A long history
That's wild

More than 100 years later, Oklahomans still seek out the famous waters of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, but now more for fun than holistic cures. Still, the waters of Oklahoma's only national recreation area continue to freshen the spirits of those who visit.

"The Chickasaw National Recreation Area is the oldest and largest national park areas in our state," said spokesperson Eric Leonard. "The land was set aside as a national (protected area) before Oklahoma was a state."

First becoming a national park in 1906, then called the Platt National Park, the area has always been focused on water.

"In those days, the mineral springs were said to have healing effects, which was a huge draw for people around the turn of the century," Leonard said. "Fast-forward a hundred years, and although people don't come for the healing powers of the water, they still come for the water."

A long historyIn 1902, the U.S. government purchased 640 acres from the Chickasaw Nation after recognizing the treasure of the mineral and freshwater springs, according to the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department (OTRD). In 1906, more land was purchased and the area was named Platt National Park after Sen. Orville Hitchcock Platt, a Connecticut politician who supported the park.

In 1976, two area parks, Platt National Park and Arbuckle Recreation Area (which features the 2,350-acre Lake of the Arbuckles), were combined to create the new 10,000-acre park.

"The park contains one of the finer examples of the Civilian Conservation Corps architecture in our state," said Hardy Watkins, executive director of OTRD. "You'll see some of the more traditional CCC structures, like the campgrounds and trails. This area has always been popular with visitors, and it's a great place for families."

That's wildEven in high summer, the waters at the park are breathtakingly cold. The area also features lakes that cater to boaters, swimmers and fishermen, along with hiking and biking trails, swimming holes and a nature center. There are six public campgrounds within the park, as well.

"The water is the reason people still come here today," Leonard said. "The most well-known swimming hole at the park is Little Niagara, which is a travertine formation and the largest of the traditional swimming holes at the park."

Along with the many creeks, lakes and swimming holes, the park's campgrounds include shower and restroom facilities, as well as more primitive camping areas. Trails are a draw for hiking and bicycle enthusiasts, making the Chickasaw National Recreation Area a tourist hot spot.

"We are the most heavily visited park in the U.S. for a park our size," Leonard said. "You're talking about 3.4 million people a year. In high summer, if you come during the weekend, you'd better get here early. A good time to come during the summer is during the weekdays."

The park will also see a few changes this summer, thanks to stimulus funds earmarked for improvements. Leonard said the dam that created Veterans' Lake, built in 1933, will get a face-lift, as will several public bathrooms. After the summer season, the Travertine Nature Center will also be updated.

For more information, visit www.nps.gov/chic. "Heide Brandes

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