May 18—Muskogee County commissioners agreed this week to tap use tax revenue to provide administrative support as Fern Mountain Trust Authority pursues funding for a proposed adventure park and related tourism projects.
District 3 Commissioner Kenny Payne said up to $7,500 would be used by the public trust to offset costs incurred while promoting the project and securing funds. Those efforts, he said, include preparing and publishing marketing materials used for the grant application process, consulting fees and training.
“There are some booklets that have been printed …, and some consultation fees on that printing,” Payne said. “The governor … could be coming this week, and some training has been done already for that.”
Payne said he expects the trust will reimburse the county for expenditures made pursuant to the funding agreement. Repayment would be contingent upon the award of a grant for the development of Fern Mountain Adventure Park and related projects.
Fern Mountain Trust Authority applied for a $102.64 million grant from the state, which has $1.87 billion available from its share of federal funds made available by the American Rescue Plan Act. State leaders plan to use ARPA funds for “strategic investments that will benefit future generations while improving services for all Oklahomans today.”
The goal, state leaders say, is to “build a stronger, more innovative, and more diverse economy” and “enhance capabilities of services for the well-being of all citizens.” More than 800 requests worth more than $13 billion were submitted before the March 31 deadline, and final decisions for most requests remain pending.
Dr. Tim Robison, a local surgeon, pitched his idea eight months ago for the 300-acre adventure park, water and cultural attractions, and a network of trails. Robison said the concept incorporates a water taxi to connect the adventure park to other destinations that would be established at sites along the Arkansas and Grand rivers and Manard Bayou.
The adventure park and a network of trails, water and cultural attractions envisioned by Fern Mountain Trust Authority could inject more than $425 million into the local economy during the next decade.
Robison told county commissioners in April the adventure park and related amenities have the potential to generate an estimated $160 million as a result of new jobs. Computer modeling used for projections, he said, show the economic impact of Fern Mountain Adventure Park and related attractions would generate another $265.71 million during the 10-year span.
The adventure park would have a visitors’ center, a gondola, zip lines, “treetop adventure challenge system,” a gravity coaster, and rock-climbing course that employs a system designed to prevent erosion. Robison said the water taxi would connect kayakers with local bayous and other attractions along the three area rivers.
The project proposal also includes a new museum that would document and celebrate Black culture. Robison said the cultural center would trace the Black experience from the “forced migration” through the Civil War and Reconstruction, and its evolution as rural Oklahoma transitioned from an agrarian economy to one that became more diverse with urbanization.