GREAT SALT PLAINS STATE PARK and NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Great Salt Plains State Park encompasses a unique geologic depository of red, hour-glass-shaped, selenite crystals in the flood plain of the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River. The park consists of 820 acres of land and water located entirely within Alfalfa County. The park entrance is five and one-half miles north of Jet, Oklahoma, on State Highway 38.
The importance of salt in food preservation made the salt plains a significant geographic locale from pre-Columbian times to 1811. Pres. Herbert Hoover designated the area of the Salt Fork east of Cherokee, Oklahoma, as a national wildlife refuge by Executive Order 5314 on March 26, 1930. The refuge protects more than three hundred different species of birds and thirty species of mammals.
The idea of building a dam for flood control purposes was included in a 1931 study made for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The seventy-fourth Congress authorized construction with the passage of Public Law 738 on June 22, 1936. Preliminary design studies began in January 1937, and excavation for the spillway began in September 1938. The dam was completed in July 1941 with a total construction cost of $4,626,270. The dam impounds a 31,420 acre-foot lake having an average depth of four feet, with additional capacity during flooding. Great Salt Plains Lake covers ninety-three hundred acres with forty-one miles of shoreline. It is relatively shallow, only averaging about four feet deep, and it is one-fourth as salty as the ocean.
On August 1, 1958, the State of Oklahoma leased eight hundred acres of the wildlife refuge for use as a state park. Guest cabins and the George Sibley hiking trail were built in 1960. The state's lease will expire in 2008.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: "Cherokee (town)," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Oklahoma's Water Atlas (Norman: Oklahoma Water Resources Board, 1984). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 25 September 1938.
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