The Lake that the Great Depression built
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com
Tucker Tower, built by the WPA, pays homage to the workers who built the massive public works projects - the lake, the dam, the structures -
at Lake Murray State Park between
Ardmore and Marietta, Oklahoma.
Depressed Oklahoma
Of all the states in the American union, Oklahoma proved to the one that was most utterly and devastatingly impacted by the Great
Depression of the 1930s. Steinbeck's fictional family, the Joads from eastern Oklahoma, made iconic the "Okie" journey to pick fruit in the
Imperial Valley in Oklahoma, and often, their troubles are what people imagine whenever the era is mentioned. However, more people
stayed than left Oklahoma during the dirty thirties, and they needed jobs. Beginning immediately upon his inauguration in 1933, Franklin
Delano Roosevelt's New Deal responded to this need by implementing one of the largest public works programs in American history, the
Civilian Conservation Corps.

Public Works
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) recruited tens of thousands of young, single men ages 18 to 25 to build parks throughout the
nation. Paid about $30 per month, the men agreed to send almost their entire paychecks home; they kept very little of their wages as
Uncle Sam provided their food, lodging, medical care, entertainment and schooling. Armed with shovels, axes, and other tools, the U.S.
Army as well as the National Park Service tasked the men to beautify the country. Several of these CCC projects came to fruition along
the Oklahoma side of the Red River Valley (
Chickasaw National Recreation Area, for example); one of the projects became Lake Murray
State Park in Carter County.

Why not Lake Alfalfa?
While the CCC started the project, the worsening economic crisis led the Roosevelt government to extend public works employment to
married men and women. Thus, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) took over the building of the park, which the state named after
its populist governor, William "Alfalfa Bill" Murray. The CCC and then, the WPA camps erected stone lodgings, infrastructures, and towers
designed by renowned National Park Service architect, Herbert Maier, who also designed the structures at Yellowstone, Grand Canyon,
and Yosemite. The astonishing amount of architectural gems that remain at Lake Murray State Park led to its National Register of Historic
Places designation in 2001. These buildings and facilities are all still in use and can be enjoyed year-round, either in the park offices,
inside reserved individual cabins, at picnic pavilions, near the campgrounds, around the lodge, at look out points, or in and around the
Tucker Tower Nature Center.

Visit
Lake Murray State Park for more information!
Trekking the Trails
Though camping isn't my thing, I am a big hiker, so I took full advantage of a lovely, early Spring day to enjoy the Buckhorn Trail at
the southeastern side of Lake Murray. Following is a short photo essay of this peaceful and completely-void-of-people hike (my
kind of recreation, to be honest)
. I highly recommend an extended visit to Lake Murray State Park!
Inside the Nature Center at Tucker Tower are excellent natural history exhibits. Most are touchable and interactive.
A view to thrill at Tucker Tower.
Built by the WPA, Tucker Tower served as a recreation center for the workers and later, for the public. The entrance to the tower looks like a
chapel, dedicated to the working men who built this beautiful place.
The trail starts just behind the park office at the old CCC water tower - a relic from the early days of construction.
CCC-era archeology surrounds the water tower. Much of old debris appears after heavy rains. Remember that anything found on state park
property is for LOOKING only - no collecting!
The Buckhorn Trail starts rocky. It's great for mountain biking if you like that sort of thing. I prefer walking. I liked the hollow ways that are
being carved from the silty soil.
The trail is well marked by iron signs...
... and newer signs that replaced the original iron arrows (see the tree's appetite for reference)!
Of course the trail will eventually cross a portion of the lake. The bridge wasn't exactly sturdy...
.. but it was really no problem. Just don't look down too much.
As usual, I improvised by finding a sturdy branch along the trail to use as a walking stick. Having a "crutch" to use for balance makes hiking
safer as well as easier. It took me a while to find a good one, but it was necessary to cross over certain obstacles, like...
... the scenic "raw sewage lagoon." The stick helped me avoid holes and found sturdy ground.
Obstacles are small prices to pay for peaceful and scenic views. The Buckhorn Trail goes to Tipp's Point. You can go further to connect to
approximately 25 miles of trails around Lake Murray. I didn't have provisions for such a hike, so I just went 7 miles.
The signs helped out a lot. Thank you, Park Rangers!
Lake Murray State Park is built in the Cross Timbers. This unique landscape is characterized by long stands of post oak trees. Post oaks
don't grow very big, but they are gnarly - a sign of their survival inbetween extreme aridness and wetness in the region's climate.  
How to get there
Lake Murray is in the center of southern Oklahoma off US 77 / Interstate
35... an easy get-a-way for city folks in both Oklahoma City and DFW.
Look at the map to discover this gem of a historic landscape.