Communities pull together to save park
On July 1, 2011, the Heavener Runestone Park ceased to be a state-run park and became a privatized recreational area managed by the Friends of the Heavener Runestone Park and Historical Site.The Friends of the Heavener Runestone Park and Historical Site is a group of LeFlore County residents who have joined forces with the city of Heavener to save the park from closure and ensure its continued operation. The group works closely with and seeks advice from the Oklahoma Department of Tourism, maintaining an excellent working relationship.Annually, the park attracts approximately 100,000 visitors and the privatization of the park saves the state of Oklahoma an estimated $110,000 per year in salaries, operating expenses and other costs, tourism officials said. Since assuming management, the park has become 100 percent self-sufficient with the help of volunteers and donations both private and corporate. Through hard economic times, the Heavener Runestone Park continues to serve the public and promote the LeFlore County area attracting guests nationally and internationally.Under the agreement between the city of Heavener and the Friends group, volunteers are responsible for daily operations of the park as well as raising the needed funds for keeping the park operational. The Ccty of Heavener provides funding for the park’s insurance. The park is an essential element to the identity of the town of Heavener and is a great source of community pride. The park utilizes tools available through the Oklahoma Tourism Department in order to promote itself and the various festivals and other events that it hosts. The park is listed on www.travelok.com and the Oklahoma Travelwire. The park’s Facebook page also is active, which helps to renew interest in the destination and increase park visitors.Sales at the park gift shop doubled in 2012, from a gross of $8,173 the previous year to $19,766 in 2012. The increase comes from improving efficiency in inventory and stocking, donated merchandise and an increase in merchandise variety, including handcrafted Viking-themed items. Overnight campsites also have been added that feature granite fire rings. Revenues from facility rentals have increased 27 percent in the past year, from $3,222 in 2011 to $8,218 in 2012. While the park charges for rentals of its pavilions, amphitheater, meeting rooms and overlook areas for private use, uncovered pavilions and playground areas remain free to the public, as is the walk to the actual runestone itself. The path to the runestone features markers that tell the history of the site and identify local plants and animals. In the spring, rain fills the waterfall behind the runestone, adding to the scenic splendor.The Runestone Park employs one full-time employee who lives on site and oversees the park. Other workers are volunteers from the Experience Works program. This allows the gift shop to remain open seven days a week.In the past year, renovations and repairs have been made to all structures and the gift shop now accepts credit cards. On its own and in conjunction with other groups, the Runestone Park organizes various festivals that often include vendors dressed in Viking and Celtic attire. A viking boat information booth has been added, as well as increased seating in the amphitheater and granite paving.The park now boasts such yearly event as the Veterans Easter Egg Hunt, Viking-Celtic Festivals, Choctaw Nation 5k/10k Health Run, Latin Flair Festival, Car and Bike Show, concerts, cowboy campfire concerts, Thor’s Hammer 5k/10k Run, Craft Mania and the Runestone Radio Auction.The Heavener Runestone Park has experienced a revitalization in 2012 and expects to continue to improve, making it a destination for everyone to enjoy.