Tourism revenue, state parks improvements, new wildlife role top Lt. Gov remarks
By KELLY BOSTIAN
For the CCOF
The Oklahoma Fishing Trail pays big dividends for the state, outdoors recreation industry and people who enjoy the outdoors, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell told members of a state chapter of Trout Unlimited in Tulsa Wednesday.
Speaking to the crowd in the Williams Lodge at Gathering Place, Pinnell said an early campaign promise to a Grand Lake landowner to find ways to direct people off the interstates to Oklahoma’s hidden jewels was “a small idea that turned into a very big thing for Oklahoma.”
Lauding the Fishing Trail results was a piece of presentation and Q&A that included Pinnell promising more work on fishing access and water issues, the state parks system and his expanding role with wildlife issues with his title change to Secretary of Tourism Wildlife and Heritage.
While Fishing Trail promotions through the Oklahoma Department of Tourism has a “relatively small” budget in the range $300,000 to $400,000, Pinnell said “the ROI is off the charts,” with $101 in return for every dollar spent.
Fishing popularity in Oklahoma is growing and during a year of growth nationwide during the Covid-19 pandemic this state’s increase was among the largest, he said.
“Every state I’m sure had an increase in fishing licenses last year,” he said. “In Oklahoma we were among the Top 5.”
In addition to signage created by the Department of Transportation, the Fishing Trial is given high presence on the Tourism Department’s travelok.com web site and its six regional “fishing loops” and the chance for angler to get a certification and sticker by catching an Oklahoma Grand Slam of five species are promoted at parks and travel centers statewide.
Pinnell said his first two years have focused on promoting the state as a destination and how the state might spend the dollars it has more wisely.
“We’re being much smarter with the limited dollars we have,” he said.
Related to fishing and fishing access, a drive to catch up on deferred maintenance and add improvements to state parks by spending $75 million in parks over the next 12 months is a leap toward more growth, he said. Park fees, he said, will serve keep the parks maintained.
The Tourism Department partnered with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen to put restaurants in five state parks and step up offerings for visitors. Also a new marina opens May 17 on Lake Murray, he said.
“We’ve only built two new marinas in the state of Oklahoma in the last 40 years,” he said. “Boat sales are at an all-time high in this country.”
Asked how he might help anglers reach legislators who have, year after year, introduced legislation that erects roadblocks for public lands or stymies wildlife conservation efforts by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Pinnell said his new title will allow him to begin to step into that role.
“That is something (Wildlife Department Director) JD Strong and I have talked a lot about as we’ve worked on the Fishing Trail the past two years,” he said.
Quail habitat is a priority, as is some way to halt the habitat damage caused by a growing populations of feral hog, he said. Licensing and permits, an issue active in the legislature this session, also is on the list.
“We will be trying to work with the legislature to fix that,” he said. “It needs to be more streamlined because it has become a headache.”
As a non-appropriated agency that is funded almost entirely outside state coffers, there is a longstanding “rub” between some legislators and the somewhat independent state agency, he said.
“I want to try to get everyone at the table together and talk about how we all, most of us, want the same thing,” he said. “That is to promote the Oklahoma that we love and how that is going to attract more visitors to the state and to help more small business owners as well.”
Kelly Bostian is an independent writer working for the The Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to education and outreach on conservation issues facing Oklahomans. To support Kelly’s work please consider making a tax deductible donation at https://www.oklahomaconservation.org