Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Beneath a canopy of summertime trees, a rock bridge arches over a shallow stream.
Travertine Creek and the Lincoln Bridge (NPS photo)

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

– 1902 –


Mary said,
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!

         In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
    [God] has looked with favor on the low status of [God's] servant.
         Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
               because the mighty one has done great things for me.”

Luke 1: 46-49 (Common English Bible)

How many former national parks can you name? For the century the National Park Service has managed sacred sites, the number of national parks has grown regularly. New sites are added, and existing sites are reclassified as national parks. Since 2017, three sites – Gateway Arch, Indiana Dunes, and White Sands – have been named national parks, often interpreted as an “upgrade” in status.

But in the history of the National Park Service, a few places that used to be full-fledged national parks have been reclassified – “demoted,” some say. Most former national parks were reclassified or released from what became the NPS system decades ago, but Oklahoma is home to what was, until 1976, Platt National Park. Today, it appears on the map as Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

Tucked into the ancient Arbuckle Mountains are a collection of mineral springs believed by indigineous people to have restorative qualities. In the 1830s the Chickasaw Indians were forcibly relocated by the American government, from their homeland in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee to Indian Territory. They traveled a southern branch of the Trail of Tears to land originally assigned to the Choctaw tribe, who had themselves been relocated from the Deep South. The Chickasaw settled into their new homeland and found the same appreciation as their predecessor for the springs and streams of the Arbuckles.

Inevitably whites arrived in the area, with some marrying into the tribe or operating businesses in the town of Sulphur Springs. Recognizing the potential for a lucrative resort community like Hot Springs, Arkansas, developers devised plans to convert the lush, green landscape into cold, hard cash. To avoid this fate, in 1902 the Chickasaw sold 640 acres to the federal government, which pledged to protect the land from development and to keep access to the site free to all. Connecticut Senator Orville H. Platt introduced legislation to designate the area protecting 32 springs as Sulphur Springs Reserve, and the area was renamed for him posthumously a few years later. Platt was the seventh national park and the smallest, encompassing about a square mile.

The new Platt National Park outdrew both Yellowstone and Yosemite in 1914. At the heart of the park was the Travertine District, a three-mile-long strip along Travertine Creek, supplied each day with 5 million gallons of fresh water from Antelope and Buffalo springs. Throughout the park other springs feed the creek via small waterfalls. During the Great Depression, crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps built paths, bridges, and park buildings, planting thousands of trees in the area. The area remains a prime example of CCC architecture.

A few miles southwest of the national park, Lake of the Arbuckles was built in the 1960s, its Arbuckle Recreation Area managed by the national park office. In 1976, at the request of the Chickasaw Nation, the two parks merged into Chickasaw National Recreation Area, stripping Platt of its national park status. But that reclassification hasn’t damaged its appeal. In 2018, Chickasaw National Recreation Area was the 57th most visited National Park Service unit, welcoming 1.47 million visitors. Whether it’s a national park or recreation area, visitors appreciate the cozy getaway where prairie and forest meet.

Words like upgrade or demotion can be fighting words. Those words are about status: how a place is viewed or valued. We concern ourselves with status, how we compare to neighbors or to strangers. It’s human nature to crave being admired, respected, appreciated. Unfortunately, the flip side of that can be hurtful: We criticize, disrespect, disparage others. Often we do this fully aware of our choices. At other times, our craving of status creates biases that degrade those different than us, whether it’s race, gender, faith tradition, nationality, political beliefs, or any of the many -isms that plague humanity. How we balance our desire for personal status with our respect for others can be the quality used to judge our character and decide our status, accurately or not.

What status is important to you? When has your status, intentionally or accidentally, hurt others? How can you use your status to help others?

Chickasaw National Recreation Area on