Campers organize effort to keep Hulah’s Wah-Sha-She Park open

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

Don Cox does not recall the first time he went camping at Hulah Lake, but he has been told it was some four decades ago when he was six months old.

He remembers plenty of Hulah Lake camping trips since then, however — including many taken with his six children. Cox and others are currently working diligently to keep Hulah’s camp areas open so that he and others can experience this serene setting in northeast Osage County.

“There’s no other place like it,” Cox said. “I really believe that — and it appears that a lot of others do, too.”

Cox said it has been a little more than two weeks since information began filtering down that the Osage Nation intended to let its lease expire at Hulah’s Wah-Sha-She Park. The Pawhuska-based tribe made the agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers three years ago after the Hulah site was closed as a state park.

Without the tribe to maintain the site, the park is in almost immediate danger of being closed — possibly permanently.

“We think that would be a great loss — not just to us, but for future generations,” said the Bartlesville resident.

In a last-gasp effort to prevent the closing, organizers used social media to call a Saturday, Sept. 13, meeting at the park. Approximately 40 persons attended the meeting and discussed the impending crisis.

“Most of the people were absolute strangers who came together for one purpose,” Cox said. “There wasn’t any time for finger-pointing and discussing what went wrong.

“We knew we must move forward quickly or the clock is going to run out and the park will be closed,” he added.

One week later, a group of more than 60 interested persons attended the second Hulah Lake meeting — which included a covered-dish dinner and election of a seven-member board for a non-profit entity to represent the interests of the group. With the help of a “Save Hulah Lake” page on Facebook, organizers worked to find additional support for their cause.

“It’s all come together in a hurry — it had to, becausewe didn’t have much warning,” said Cox, who was elected treasurer of the non-profit.

The Save Hulah organizer said the next step involves meeting with officials of the Osage Nation. Cox said an effort will be made at persuading tribal officials to let the lake group operate the park under the tribe’s existing contract — which is due to expire on Nov. 1.

“It could take up to a year for our status as a non-profit to become official,” Cox said, adding that the Corps could have closed the lake by Oct. 1.

The Hulah group’s meeting with Osage Nation officials was expected to be held Tuesday.

“We’re are willing to take over immediately,” Cox said of the plan for maintaining operation of the lake site. “”It will not cost the tribe anything.”

He said the current members of the Hulah organization come from a fairly wide area — with the largest representation being from nearby Bowring and Whipporwill, as well as toward Sedan, Kan., and Bartlesville.

According to Cox, the group “wants to maintain the existing traditions at Hulah, and build on them.” He said that during the past three or four years, the park’s campsite areas “have been more full than I’ve ever seen them” due to popular events like “Hillbilly Handfishing” and crappie tournaments.

“In the past, nobody has wanted to operate the campground without making a profit,” Cox said. “We would be happy to just keep the place open for people in this community and for the ones who love to visit here.”

Hulah Lake was built by the Corps between 1946 and 1951 to provide flood protection for the Caney River Valley.