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Backpacker Skylar Schisler warily eyes a bison on the prairie at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Charles Sasser


Happy Trails!


Backpacking in the forests and mountains of Oklahoma requires preparation. Here are some tips to enjoy the trails.


• Plot your selected trail on maps in advance or talk with other hikers.


• Proper equipment makes the adventure more enjoyable.


• Practice hiking with a full pack beforehand to make sure you are in good physical condition.


• Take into account and prepare for weather conditions, terrain, and possible hazards like poison ivy, wild animals and snakes.


• There are 46 species or varieties of snakes in Oklahoma, seven of which are venomous. Wear snake-bite gaiters and know in advance what you will do in the event of an emergency.


Oklahoma Trails A


By Charles Sasser


side from the obvious physical benefi ts of trekking wilderness trails comes the emotional payoff of being nurtured by nature and her fresh air, sights, sounds and smells. Nearly every rural electric cooperative region in Oklahoma offers at least one trail for backpacking or hiking.


Tucked into the mountains and forests of eastern Oklahoma or etched in the plains and rolling hills of western Oklahoma are 45 trails in three different geo- graphic regions that will appeal to abilities and interests ranging from the novice day hiker to the seasoned cross-country backpacker. “Oklahoma is outdoor country—and Oklahomans are outdoor people,” says Harold Keyser, who, with wife Mary, are camp hosts at Talimena State Park, gateway to the nearly two million acres of the Ouachita National Forest. A hard left east on OK-63 past Pam’s Hateful Hussy Diner in Talihina—two eggs, hash browns, bacon or sausage, biscuits and gravy, coffee, about fi ve bucks— leads to the state park, the Ouachita forests and more than 700 miles of back- packing and hiking trails. Eastern Oklahoma is noted for mountain scenery, clear lakes, and more Bigfoot sightings than anywhere else in the world. Established in 1907, the Ouachita is the South’s oldest and largest national forest. Its longest trail climbs into the Winding Stairs Mountains out of Talimena State Park and on for 224 miles to Little Rock, Ark. Bo Lea, who retired from an electric cooperative in Arkansas, is president of


FOOT (Friends of Ouachita Trail), an organization of 250 members from all over Oklahoma and Arkansas that maintains the trail and is in the process of con- structing night shelters along its route. “We want backpackers to rate Oklahoma among the best trails in the nation,


such as the Appalachian Trail or the Great Divide Trail,” he says. Snugged further into the southeastern corner of the state in Choctaw Electric


Cooperative’s service territory, Beavers Bend State Park presents the beautiful Skyline Trail and exciting trout fi shing in the Mountain Fork River that spills clear and cold out of Broken Bow Lake. The river’s brown and rainbow trout attract fl y anglers from all over the Southwest. West of eastern Oklahoma’s “Piney Hills” geographic region lies the “Great Plains” region and the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge with its headquarters 25 miles northwest of Lawton, Okla. Its open country and 500-million-year-old granite hills make it the most popular hiking site in the state, attracting hundreds of hikers, backpackers and other outdoor enthusiasts each year. Touted as “a symbol of the Old West standing on the threshold of modern times,” it was fi rst established in 1905 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, later


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