BY DAVID PERRYMAN
The owners of Motel 6 conceptualized a chain of no frills motels. In 1962, they succeeded in providing the public with a $6 motel room with a bed, a bathroom, a shower and not a whole lot more. It was perfect for a shoestring budget. Anything more cost extra. Two persons cost more than one and turning on the television required the rental of a special key for an additional fee.
By the 1980’s, competitors for a part of the economy traveler’s lodging dollar had incorporated the Motel 6 concept and the chain was faltering. Enter Tom Bodett, a Midwesterner with a clipped Michigan dialect that shouted honesty and homespun common sense.
Bodett, a writer, had relocated to Alaska and had found a niche as a contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered. Recruited as the new voice for Motel 6, his message revitalized the chain with the closing phrase, “This is Tom Bodett for Motel 6 and we’ll leave the light on for you.”
Sadly, that message of hospitality is not shared by Oklahoma and its Department of Tourism and Recreation or the legislators who continue to slash the department’s budget. The issue has culminated in a clear picture that Oklahoma’s State Parks are “not on the list” of core services.
Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy of land owned by the public for the use of the public has resulted in a national park system that has often been referred to as “America’s Best Idea.” Ironically, that phrase became a part of the title of Ken Burn’s 2009 documentary about our national parks in which Tom Bodett was one of the readers.
For decades, the Oklahoma park system emulated the Rough Rider’s vision of “the effectiveness of outdoor life and recreation in the production of good citizenship.” That vision is no longer the model as the state has undertaken the sale, lease and debilitation of our once vibrant parks and recreation system.
In turn, the Oklahoma tourism and recreation policy is devastating hundreds of privately owned businesses dependent on lake and park tourism. A prime example is the current status of the Lake Texoma Lodge that was operated by the Department of Tourism and Recreation on non-transferable land owned by the Corps of Engineers.
While direct transfer of the land to a private entity was not possible, legislation passed by U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin allowed the transfer to the Oklahoma Commissioners of the Land Offices that in turn transferred the property to Pointe Vista, a private entity [comprised of the CEO of Chaparral Energy and Aubrey McClendon, formerly of Chesapeake, and others], accomplishing indirectly what was not allowed directly.
The state was told that by 2014 a new resort hotel would be built on the site. The existing lodge was dozed in 2008-09 and employees were laid off, let go or offered retirement and severance packages. As of today, there is no resort hotel on the site and does not appear to be one there anytime soon, if ever. The lost income to area businesses as a result of those lost tourists, fishermen and vacationers is now in its fifth year.
The list of state parks and recreation areas being shuttered or transferred goes on and on. As the state withdraws its operations in this area, already strapped cities and counties realize the economic impact of the facilities and are scrambling to try to keep them open. Many assets are being transferred to tribal governments.
Similarly, the list of Oklahoma Visitor Centers that the Department of Tourism and Recreation have abdicated is growing steadily. The latest casualty is the visitor’s center on I-44 near Walters. A number of tribal governments have “stepped in” to “bail out” the state in the operations.
I don’t think that Theodore Roosevelt was wrong. Common ownership and use of outdoor recreational areas is a state concern. It is amazing what a little advertising will do. Ask Tom Bodett and Motel 6. Unfortunately, under current policy, the ad would sound like this: “This is Tom Bodett for the State of Oklahoma and we’re turning the lights off for you.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives