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Press Release

Release Date: September 20, 2019

by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office



Chickasaw National Recreation Area will be hosting a rededication ceremony for the Travertine Nature Center (Travertine) Saturday, Sept. 21, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The rededication is in celebration of the first 50 years of service of the nature center in educating and inspiring park visitors, as well as reaffirming its mission for the future.

Travertine Nature Center serves as the Chickasaw National Recreation Area’s main educational facility. Inside the building are live animal exhibits, diorama exhibits and an information desk. An auditorium able to accommodate 100 people allows ranger-led discussions and video presentations.

Located in the heart of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur, Oklahoma, Travertine was the first nature center constructed by the National Park Service (NPS) west of the Mississippi. The building, inspired by the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, straddles Travertine Creek.

The Travertine was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 because it represents the NPS’s transition into the modern environmental movement, the federal response to land management and the rich cultural history of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

The center, with its unique architecture, historical and educational value, is one of only two interpretive exhibits of its kind in the National Park Service.

Few features of the Travertine have changed since its construction. Exhibits at the center highlight ecosystems found in southern Oklahoma and the significant water resources of the springs, creeks and lakes of the Chickasaw National Recreational Area.

From Chickasaw land to National Park

Chickasaw families first settled the area that would later become Chickasaw National Recreation Area after they were removed from their Homeland east of the Mississippi River. By 1880, white settlers moved into the area and began developing the land around the many springs as a resort area. Hotels and bathhouses dotted the landscape and accommodated thousands of visitors.

Chickasaw and Choctaw people feared losing the healing waters to private ownership. As a result, in 1902, the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations ceded 640 acres to the U.S. government for the purpose of creating Sulphur Springs Reservation, later designated Platt National Park and managed by the National Park Service.

At the tribes’ insistence, a promise was added to the agreement that the area could be used "by all men for perpetuity."

The 1930s and 40s were an important time for the Chickasaw National Recreation Area’s history. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” program allowed many of the structures enjoyed today to be built in the park. These structures led to a portion of the park being placed on the National Register of Historic Districts, separate from the Travertine Nature Center.

Platt National Park and the nearby Arbuckle Recreation Area were combined in 1976 and renamed the Chickasaw National Recreation Area to constitute a fitting memorialization to the Chickasaws’ efforts to protect the springs.

“Land of Rippling Waters” protected by generations of Chickasaw

Chickasaw citizen Bill Wright feels as if he has come full circle, both in his professional and personal life. Native to Sulphur, Oklahoma, he experienced firsthand the many changes that have occurred within the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

Currently, Wright is the recreation area’s superintendent and the Oklahoma state coordinator of the National Park Service, with two other National Park locations falling under his supervision.

Wright’s earliest memories include the recreation area. His grandfather, Lonnie Shaffer, was a National Park Service ranger assigned to the area, which was then named Platt National Park. Living on-site near Pavilion Springs, Wright’s grandfather nurtured his love of Mother Nature and its protection, inspiring him to pursue a career with the National Park Service.

“Grandfather was my role model. He gave me a love of the outdoors and a strong work ethic. I always knew I wanted to be a park ranger, like him. It was an easy career decision,” Wright said. “He was a ‘park cop,’ a law enforcement ranger. I followed in his footsteps. The first 29 years of my career, I was a federal law enforcement officer for the National Park Service.”

Wright’s Chickasaw heritage, which derives from his grandmother, has bound his family history to the area for more than 160 years.

“People ask me about my connection to this part of the country. My grandmother’s family has lived here since the 1850s, coming to the area during Removal. Living and dead, my family is all within a 5 square mile radius of Sulphur,” Wright said. “When I was young, my great aunt would take me to visit the little cemeteries in the communities around the park. She would point out our relatives in all of them. It is really cool to feel like I am at my roots.”

Wright says most of the amenities offered at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area have remained the same since he was a boy. The biggest change has been the demographics of the visitors, and how people’s changing tastes are reflected in the use of the recreation area.

Today, these demographic changes are similar to the way Native Americans and early white settlers originally used the area. Camping, swimming and enjoying the “healing qualities” of the cool, fresh, mineral water are century old traditions.

“The stories I grew up on from my grandfather were that families came year after year. People would come back the same week each year and camp in the same site. My grandfather knew them all by name. They would look him up while here,” Wright said.

“I think today the majority are return visitors, but visitation habits have changed from when he was here. People who live in the area typically make day trips to the park, while those from farther away spend more time and camp.”

Collaborations between governments

The land around the springs was sold to the U.S. government by the Chickasaw Nation with the idea of conservation in mind. The transaction created the seventh National Park, predating the National Park Service by 10 years. The federal government named the area Platt National Park. This was followed by another name change in 1976 to honor the Chickasaw people.

Collaborations continue between the Chickasaw Nation, the city of Sulphur and the federal government. Through an act of Congress, land was swapped between the three to create the Chickasaw Cultural Center.
Wright and his staff moved offices from a historic building in downtown Sulphur to the state-of-the-art Chickasaw Visitor Center. Located at the main entrance of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, the visitor center serves to highlight local attractions of Sulphur and communicate the Chickasaw Nation’s connection to the recreation area.

The National Park Service and the Chickasaw Nation recently collaborated to build the Inkana Bridge, a pedestrian/bicycle bridge connecting the Chickasaw Cultural Center and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.