To begin the story of Optima Lake, I would like to give a little background.
I saw a story on News 9, which can be read here stating the park would be torn down instead of replacing a $1.5 Million guardrail that protects drivers crossing the dam. So we decided to hit the road, and document the park before it was lost forever.
Optima Lake is located in the panhandle of Oklahoma in Texas County on the Beaver River, approximately 4 1/2 miles northeast of Hardesty, and 20 miles east of Guymon. All public use areas around the lake are grown over and hardly accessible to vehicles, but remain open without any services like water or electricity. The lake was built in 1978 by the Army Corps of Engineers, but the water level never reached normal pool because of an extreme case of drought and evaporation in the area. This can be read about here.
There is approximately 3400 acres of land for public hunting and approximately 4300 acres of Federal Wildlife Refuge. According to the Army Corps of Engineers website, Optima Lake is also a prime area to view a variety of waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds.
Even though there may not be any water in the lake, or any other visitors around, there is some amazing views of the valley below and the surrounding hills. The drive from Oklahoma City took 4.5 hours, but was well worth it. Next time, we’re bringing a tent!
Below is an article from the Oklahoman:
Parched Optima Lake loses last campground
By Dawn Marks
GUYMON — Not only is Optima Lake a body without water, it also is without a campground. Angler Point, the last campground in the often-dry Panhandle lake, did not open April 1 because of budget cuts and decreased usage, said Ray Kunka, who manages Optima and Fort Supply lakes for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We really have to set our priorities,” Kunka said. The corps is facing budget cuts, which will delay several large repair projects.
The 21-site campground had been open since 1981, when the parks were completed at Optima. In 1994, the corps closed its Optima office, an overnight campground and two day-use areas. Another site was never opened because the area had few visitors. Angler Point remained open because it did not have a shower/rest room that needed the frequent attention of corps employees. When the office closed, no employees remained.
The number of visitors at the lake has always been small. The lake, built for flood control, water supply and recreation, was completed in the late 1970s but never filled to capacity. The lake was designed to hold 5,300 acres of water but never had more than 1,200 acres, Kunka said. Many theories exist as to why the lake never filled, but the corps never did an official study, he said. Possible reasons include irrigation, lack of rain and evaporation. The water was just a few inches deep over the winter, Kunka said. “It’s basically dry,” he said.
Although the lake has never been more than 15 feet deep, the corps kept the campground open for hunters, who are its most frequent users. Volunteers worked to keep the site going after the office closed. Some acted as camp hosts while others did chores such as cleaning restrooms or mowing.
The site was usually open from April 1 to Oct. 1. It earned $2,400 in user fees last summer, down from $4,800 two years ago, Kunka said. Visitors paid by depositing money in a locked box. Kunka said the campground’s operating costs have always been much higher than its earnings. The site needed a water treatment plant and maintenance such as mowing. The treatment plant also required heat and electricity to prevent frozen pipes.
Kunka said he hopes a local group will operate the site and keep it public. He said Texas County commissioners have inquired. Commissioners were unavailable for comment Thursday. Guymon Mayor Jess Nelson said the closure probably won’t affect the city much economically, but it was considered an asset. Some groups worked to increase the number of walking trails and bird sanctuaries at Optima but made little progress, he said. Nelson said the area could still play a role in the area’s future if the corps allowed the Optima Water Authority to drill wells to provide water to surrounding communities.