Wister Holiday Tradition in Jeopardy

Budget cuts have forced a LeFlore County community to rethink their annual Christmas lights display.

Residents of Wister want to keep the tradition alive. Mike Howell and his three girls have gone to see the holiday lights at Lake Wister State Park every Christmas.

“This place is just packed that time of year,” said Howell. “Cars are just bumper to bumper coming through here.”  

Howell says his family makes several trips through the holiday season. But they may not get to this year.

The lights are privately funded, but in the past the state has provided the man power to put them up, according to Karen Wages with the Poteau Chamber of Commerce. Park employees typically start putting up the lights in October. But budget cuts have forced the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department to eliminate staff and resources to put up the lights.

“We just wish that, you know, we could have some cooperation and a little help,” Wages said.

Outraged by the thought of no Christmas lights, State Rep. James Lockhart called Gov. Mary Fallin.

“I just hope that Gov. Fallen will show some Christmas spirit and motivate them to help us down here,” Rep. Lockhart.

The annual lights show draws in between 5,000 and 6,000 people, according to Wages. It also brings in big money for the area, revenue the Chamber of Commerce says they can’t afford to give up.

“There will be a display, there’s too much money involved,” Wages said. “There’s too many willing volunteers to say “The lights will go on.’”

Locals vow to keep the light tradition alive, as well.

“It’s a shame,” Howell said. “We’re gonna see what we can do to keep this going.”