Bring the whole family out for Atoka’s Wildflower & Pollinator Festival for a day full of fun and education. Located in historic downtown Atoka, this free event will feature demonstrations, speakers, games and activities perfect for kids. Be sure to visit a variety of vendors and food trucks set up throughout the area, and enjoy live music throughout the day.
Get Hooked on Fishing
By Christian Toews
From the Sept. 2020 Biskinik
The lake gently lapping against the shore in the morning. The plop of a lure hitting a calm pond. The sound of a reel whirling out when you set a hook. Fishing is relaxing and exciting at the same time. No matter what type of fishing you enjoy, The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has something to offer. From fly fishing in Broken Bow to bass fishing on a scenic lake, this area will surprise you with its options.
The sport of fishing is very popular, according to the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. In the U.S., 50 million people ages 6 and up went fishing in 2019. That means 17% of the U.S. population cast a lure at least once. While some of this was saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing was the majority of fishing across the U.S. at 81%.
Fishing is no longer the boys’ club it was once thought to be. Over one-third of participants in 2019 were women, according to Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. This gap between men and women participating in the sport continues to shrink every year.
Even colleges are recognizing the popularity of fishing. Many schools are now offering scholarships for bass fishing. While bass fishing is not currently recognized as an NCAA sport, colleges across the country have teams and compete in multiple tournaments each year.
You would be hard-pressed to find a place that has deeper fishing roots than southeastern Oklahoma. While some might think of Oklahoma as a dusty and dry state, the dust bowl days are a thing of the past. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma has nearly 1.2 million acres of impounded water. The state has twenty-three thousand miles of rivers and streams and seventy-three reservoirs larger than five hundred acres, containing a combined total of 660,000 acres. Many of these rivers and lakes are connected to the Ouachita and Ozark mountain ranges of southeastern Oklahoma. These two ranges provide watershed and beauty to the area. You can discover more details about great fishing locations withing the Choctaw Nation by visiting the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation‘s website.
Jon James uses his bass boat to fish the best locations on McGee Creek Reservoir in McGee Creek State Park. The Reservoir, located near Atoka, Oklahoma, has 64 miles of shoreline where fishermen will find an abundance of large and smallmouth bass, channel catfish, perch, crappie and sunfish.
Jon James is an angler who grew up in Oklahoma and lives near Atoka, Oklahoma. He was involved in the professional fishing industry for 10 years and has fished most of the top fishing spots across the united states. He says there is something special about fishing in southeastern Oklahoma. “I’ve fished all over the country, and there is a reason I came back to this area. A lot of it has to do with the lakes here,” he said. James said he primarily fishes for bass. He said that you can fish for a large variety of fish in the lakes in the Choctaw Nation and surrounding area. The diversity in fishing options in southeastern Oklahoma is one of the reasons he enjoys fishing there.
“I love the diversity we have here. You have so many lakes, and they all have something unique to offer,” said James.
Oklahoma has more to offer than fishing lakes and ponds. Broken Bow, Oklahoma, offers world-class fly fishing. Chris Schatte is a guide with Beavers Bend Fly Fishing. He has been fly fishing since he was very young.
“My grandfather bought me a bamboo fly rod for a Christmas when I was eight, and I used it for years and years,” stated Schatte.
When asked about how fly fishing in Broken Bow compares to other locations across the country, Schatte noted, “The thing about fly fishing here is the river fishes year-round. Our river is very diverse in the way it flows. It is a fast Colorado style river in parts to a wide Virginia style river in others. Ankle deep water to deep pools.”
According to Schatte, fly fishing is a unique style of fishing because the angler is actively involved in the process. He says that people new to fly fishing should expect to have a lot of fun while learning and improving in the sport.
In case you need more reasons to go fishing, there are several health benefits to the sport. Fishing can keep you physically fit. While fishing itself isn’t necessarily going to burn many calories, often, the best fishing spots take a bit of hiking or paddling to get to. Fishing has also been associated with lowering stress. Most anglers agree that fishing is very relaxing and a good way to spend time with friends and family. A 2009 Harvard Medical School study conducted by a team of researchers drawn from the University of Southern Maine, the University of Utah and the VA in Salt Lake City, found that military veterans had significant reductions in stress and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improvements in sleep quality after participating in a fly-fishing retreat.
Eating fish has many health benefits. According to The Mayo Clinic, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish may decrease blood pressure and lower the risk of stroke and heart failure. Enjoying some grilled trout after a long day on the river is an excellent way to end the day.
Whether you want to fish for striper in Lake Texoma near Durant, bass in McGee Creek Lake, trout in Broken Bow, or maybe you want to try your luck at all of it. Southeastern Oklahoma is truly a fishing destination.
The next time you are planning a family trip or a weekend getaway with your friends, consider fishing in one of the many rivers, streams, lakes or ponds found with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the surrounding area.
Starlight, Star Bright
By Christian Toews
From the June 2020 Biskinik
When was the last time you looked up at the stars? Not just a glance up to remember they exist, but when you paused and had a long, contemplative look at the stars? For most people it has probably been a while. With the speed of our lives these days, we barely have time to pause and eat, much less be introspective. For our ancestors, stargazing was a regular occurrence. Early texts from around the world reveal that people spent a lot of time searching the stars for meaning, inspiration, comfort and beauty. The Bible even tells the story of shepherds following a star to the location where they found Jesus.
Our modern relationship with the night sky is a bit less dramatic. Many of us have seen the stars, but perhaps not to the extent our forefathers saw them. With the invention of the lightbulb, our relationship with the night sky became, well, dim. Sure, we are more productive because we have been able to work later into the night. We’ve had more fun because we no longer have to rely on daylight to play sports and games. But has all of this convenience come at a cost to our relationship with nature?
Oklahoma might be the last place on your mind when you think of stargazing. In Texas they sing, “The stars at night are big and bright,” and in Oklahoma we sing, “Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.” But there is much more to Oklahoma than plains and wind.
Within the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma lie some of the best dark skies in the eastern half of the United States. Between Nashoba and Smithville there is a stretch of Oklahoma that is almost untouched by light pollution.
The first colors of sunrise on the horizon meet the night sky just outside of Nashoba, Okla. Dark skies provide unique opportunity in Southeastern Okla.
John Bortle worked to develop a way to map and classify how well the sky can be seen on a clear moonless night. The Bortle scale ranges from 1 (pristine, dark skies with less than 1% of the brightness of the sky coming from the ground) to 9 (more than 2700% of the sky’s total brightness coming from the ground). According to skyandtelescope.com, where the Bortle scale was first published, the most heavily light-polluted areas like New York, Rome, Paris and Chicago might reduce what you can see to only the brightest 10-or-20 stars, even on a pristine, clear night. The area in Oklahoma including Nashoba and Smithville is classified as level 2 skies on the Bortle scale. That means, on a clear and moonless night, the summer Milky Way is highly structured to the unaided eye.
Light pollution doesn’t only make stargazing difficult. It also has an impact on the ecosystems around us. According to the International Dark Sky Association, a natural night sky signals when to eat, sleep, hunt, migrate and even when to reproduce for many animals. It is estimated that half of all life on earth start their “daily” activities at sundown.
Humans are also affected by light pollution. In a recent Harvard study, it was noted that even dim light can interfere with a person’s circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. “A mere eight lux—a level of brightness exceeded by most table lamps and about twice that of a night light—has an effect,” noted Stephen Lockley, a Harvard sleep researcher.
According to the International Dark Sky Association, exposure to blue light at night is particularly harmful, and more lights are trending toward blue. Most LEDs used for outdoor lighting, as well as computer screens, TVs and other electronic displays create abundant blue light.
As the natural day and night rhythm continues to be interrupted by artificial light, one of the most unfortunate effects of this interruption is that there are so many people who have never seen certain stars, constellations or even the Milky Way, our own galaxy.
A New York Times article described a 1994 earthquake that shook the Los Angeles area around 4:30 in the morning. The quake was very strong and knocked out the power to the area. Naturally, people gathered outside their homes during the quake and residents reportedly called various emergency centers to report a mysterious cloud overhead. The cloud was the Milky Way galaxy which had been obscured from view by the artificial lights.
While we cannot shut off the city lights across the country, we can escape to areas with less light pollution to show ourselves and our children the beauty above us.
Babak Tafreshi is an astrophotographer and science journalist whose work has been featured in National Geographic as well as many other publications. When talking about light pollution, he offered some hope, saying, “Truly dark skies are possible to experience thanks to a growing number of preserved dark sky places and a rising branch of ecotourism called astrotourism, which is emerging in areas with existing ecotourism infrastructure, with natural dark skies, that are far from cities and major light pollution sources.”
As Tafreshi mentioned, ecotourism is a big factor in preserving untouched landscapes around the world, as well as right here in Oklahoma. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education.”
The Choctaw Nation Capitol Museum & Cultural Center with a stary sky located in Tuskahoma, Okla.
Tourism is a huge industry, and many places in Oklahoma see visitors from around the world. Ecotourism advocates for conscious, sustainable travel to these areas. In other words, to leave them in a similar state to what our ancestors saw. Astrotourism asks us as a society to be conscious of our impact on the night sky. We can preserve areas of the country where people can escape the city lights and see the natural night sky in all its glory. “A truly dark night sky can change someone’s life forever,” said Tafreshi.
The area between Nashoba and Smithville is one of the best places to view the Milky Way, but it’s not the only place to see great views of the night sky within the Choctaw Nation. McGee Creek State Park and the area surrounding it just outside of Atoka have fantastic night sky viewing. While this area is a level 3 on the Bortle scale, it is shielded from surrounding city light by the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains. This makes the stargazing wonderful.
If you travel around 90 miles northeast of McGee Creek, you’ll find Robbers Cave State Park. This park is famous for the cave that was used as a hideout for outlaws Jesse James and Belle Starr. A level 3 on the Bortle scale, the park is also a great place to see the night sky.
Both McGee Creek State Park and Robbers Cave State Park offer camping and recreational activities. They are great locations to camp, stargaze and connect with our natural world.
Let’s face it – our lives are busy and bright. They are full of screen time at work and at home. It has become easier to be in the same room with someone and not be present. To be in the same city, state, country, world and galaxy and take it all for granted. We are surrounded by a never-ending universe, and we can still catch a glimpse of infinity by looking up at night. So, plan a trip. Whether that trip is to your backyard, down the street, Robbers Cave or across the country. Don’t miss the opportunity to sit on your tailgate, a blanket, or a grassy field and look up at the stars.
If you are interested in seeing where the darkest skies are located in Oklahoma, visit lightpollutionmap.info. This allows you to search near your location to see where the best stargazing areas are for you.
Outdoors Around Antlers/Atoka/McGee Creek State Park
Tired of living like a city slicker? Not to worry – your bond with Mother Nature is right down the road.
Book the perfect spot at McGee Creek State Park that fits your personal connection with nature. And make sure you make some s’mores the first night!
Then, slide over to Atoka to grab some delicious food at El Adobe Mexican Restaurant before heading over to the Atoka Museum, Civil War Cemetery & Visitor Center. There, you’ll learn about all the amazing historical people from around the area. If you’re lucky enough to be in town during a race, make sure to swing by Atoka Motorsport Park to watch the dirt fly.
Once you’ve done Atoka, head toward Antlers. Upon arriving, stop into High Street Pizza – a small pizza spot that will satisfy your taste buds, your stomach and your wallet! Then, mosey over to the Wildlife Heritage Center, where you can reconnect with local wildlife and pick up a list of trails in Oklahoma. Check out their hunting exhibit and, if you’re extra quiet – just maybe – you’ll catch a glimpse of the deer in Deer Park.
Ready to get out and hike some trails? There are plenty to choose from near McGee Creek State Park. Make sure to bring a fishing pole along, as you’ve got a great chance to catch one of the biggest fish you’ve ever told a story about!