This is the story of a national park that was, then wasn’t. We visited Chickasaw National Recreation Area because we wanted to see what remained of a national park that once was one of the most visited in the United States. In fact, the park attracted visitors to southern Oklahoma before Oklahoma was even an official state!
Our guess is that most people who visit the park today don’t pay much attention to the park that was. Most of today’s visitors are likely there to enjoy the camping and water sport opportunities that the new park offers. Interestingly, the park has always been about water, but not in the ways most people would think. Enjoy the journey as we explore the historic place that was once Platt National Park.
Birth of a Park
According to the National Park Service: Between the 1830 Indian Removal Act and 1850, the U.S. government used forced treaties and/or U.S. Army action to move about 100,000 American Indians living east of the Mississippi River, westward to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. Among the relocated tribes were the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole.
The trails the tribes followed are collectively called the Trail of Tears. Chickasaw and Choctaw settled on the same land grant in the southern third of Indian Territory but later agreed with the government to split the land between the two nations. Lands acquired by the Chickasaw Nation included the area that would later become Platt National Park.
Fearing uncontrolled use of their lands’ mineral and freshwater springs, both the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations sold 32 springs along with 640 acres of land to the Department of the Interior for protection in 1902. The site was initially named Sulphur Springs Reservation, however, four years later the name was changed to Platt National Park.
Platt Historic District
Platt National Park was the seventh U.S. national park and was named after the late Connecticut Senator Orville Platt who had supported legislation to protect the springs located on the land. In 1914, the park, which was then the smallest of all national parks, attracted more visitors than Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks.
Much to the Chickasaw and Choctaw people’s dissatisfaction, visitors flocked to the springs because they believed the mineral waters held healing powers. Resorts such as the one above and others that popped up around the springs brought about the sale of the springs and surrounding lands to the government.
Travertine Nature Center
The Travertine Nature Center serves as a visitor center in the park, and while it is a newer building it is considered part of the Platt Historic District. Its features include dioramas depicting the park’s wildlife as well as live exhibits of fish and amphibians. Visitors to the center can pick up park brochures, buy a souvenir in the bookstore, and talk with rangers about the park.
And speaking of history, how long has it been since you’ve seen one of these?
A longtime favorite swimming area for visitors, Little Niagara is a small cascade on Travertine Creek and is just a short walk from the nature center. Improvements at the Little Niagara area, including a dam to create the swimming hole, were also done by the CCC in the 1930s.
Lincoln Bridge, which replaced an old wooden bridge, was the first improvement project of Platt National Park. Amid much fanfare, the bridge was dedicated on February 12, 1909, in honor of President Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday and re-dedicated on the same day in 2009 to celebrate its own centennial.
Forrest Townsend, who was the first full-time ranger at Platt National Park, designed Lincoln Bridge. Constructed of limestone, the bridge is 120 feet long and 20 feet wide. Four crenelated (notched) towers form the abutments with steps and a flagpole on each one.
Lincoln Bridge has long been a favorite scenic spot in the park. We found it to be our favorite too.
Trivia: In 2011, as part of the America the Beautiful Quarters Series, the U.S. Mint issued a quarter featuring Chickasaw National Recreation Area and the Lincoln Bridge.
In 1976, Platt National Park was abolished by congress and combined with the Arbuckle Recreation Area to form Chickasaw National Recreation Area. We haven’t covered all of the features of the Platt Historic District here, but we feel fortunate to have seen them. Thankfully the National Park Service has done a great job of preserving Platt National Park’s history.
Where is it?
Chickasaw National Recreation Area is located near the town of Sulfur in southern Oklahoma about 13 miles east of I-35 and the town of Davis. The park’s main visitor center and administration office is located at 901 West 1st Street, Sulfur, Oklahoma. Features of the park include:
- Travertine Nature Center – exhibits, park information, bookstore
- Platt Historic District
- Six campgrounds – some require reservations.
- Veteran’s Lake – hiking, fishing, picnicking
- Lake of the Arbuckles – boating, fishing, camping, fishing, hunting, swimming, picnicking
- Bison pasture
- Scenic drives
- Ranger-led programs
- Free admission
Access the park’s website here.
Thank you so much for joining us!
Want to visit some other amazing national parks? Try these:
Happy, safe travels, y’all!
Mike and Kellye
As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.