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McCURTAIN COUNTY WILDERNESS AREA

Located twenty-five miles north of Broken Bow within the Kiamichi-Ouachita Mountain Region, the 14,087 acres of the McCurtain County Wilderness Area serves as the last sizeable expanse of unlogged, virgin shortleaf pine/hardwood forest in the nation and home of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and the leopard darter.

Born through the efforts of the 1918 Oklahoma Legislature to keep the area in a primal state, officials purchased the entire acreage from twenty sections of American Indian land at approximately $6.13 per acre. The state created a game preserve for the dwindling deer population and charged the recently formed Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to care for the location. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) maintained a camp in the area, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built projects, including a low-water bridge across the Upper Mountain Fork River, and installed more than twenty-four miles of high boundary fence. In 1953 the state legislature named the preserve a wildlife area and in 1975 the U.S. National Park Service designated the expanse a National Natural Landmark, stating that it "possesses exceptional value as an illustration of the nation's natural heritage."

This natural heritage is displayed in a variety of forms in the untouched wilderness area. Lying in the Ouachita Uplift, elevations span from 575 feet above sea level at the Broken Bow Reservoir to 1,363 feet on Pine Mountain. A variety of wildflowers, ferns, and shrubs join the many species of trees, including cyprus, sugar and red maple, blue beech, sweet gum, red and white oak, hickories, and post and blackjack oak. The shortleaf pine is the last refuge for the red-cockaded woodpecker. The state's only remaining freeflowing wilderness river, the Glover River, harbors the leopard darter, a fish species first discovered in 1955. Wildlife in the location includes more than one hundred bird species, flying squirrel, bobcat, fox, turkeys, and there are rare sightings of black bear and mountain lions.

Surrounded by logging operations in the Ouachita National Forest, the wilderness area has remained primal, under strict control of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, by keeping some areas off limits to the public and limiting access to other regions with a department guide. Turkey hunting was allowed in 1988, and a one-mile self-guided walking trail is available west of the Upper Mountain Fork River. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the area was undergoing a hardwood-thinning plan to restore the forest to its 1896 levels.

SEE ALSO: CAMPING, ENDANGERED SPECIES, ENVIRONMENT, RIVERS AND CREEKS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 12 July 1970, 3 September 1970, 12 July 1987, 13 March 1988, 18 August 2004, and 21 August 2004. Barbara Palmer, Oklahoma: Off the Beaten Path, A Guide to Unique Places (4th ed.; Guilford, Conn.: The Globe Pequot Press, 2003).

Dana Jackson

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