Wilderness Watch is supporting a number of changes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing in and around the Wichita Mountains Wilderness that would help restore more natural conditions. FWS’s good proposals would specifically improve and protect the Charons Garden Wilderness unit at the Wichita Mountains Wilderness.


The Wichita Mountains Wilderness is located in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in the southwestern corner of Oklahoma. The Refuge was first established in 1901 by President McKinley, initially as a Forest Preserve, and then it was re-designated in 1905 by President Teddy Roosevelt as the Wichita Forest and Game Preserve.  


In 1970, Congress designated the 8,570-acre Wichita Mountains Wilderness within the Refuge, which is home to a herd of bison, with habitats such as mixed-grass prairie and oak forests. The Wilderness consists of two units: the 2,847-acre North Mountain unit in the north-central part of the Refuge’s “special use area” closed to public access; and the 5,723-acre Charons Garden unit in the southwestern part of the Refuge that sits in the Refuge’s “public use area.”


As a result of funding provided in the 2020 Great American Outdoors Act, the FWS has issued a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) to address the backlog of $18.3 million in deferred maintenance at the Refuge, including demolishing the current Headquarters building near the Charons Garden Wilderness unit and constructing a new Headquarters complex near the Visitor Center about five miles away from the Wilderness. As part of this process, the FWS has also proposed a number of efforts that would improve the wilderness character of the Charons Garden Wilderness unit. They include:

  • Converting the Treasure Lake “cherry-stemmed” road to a hiking trail on southern edge of the Wilderness, and creating a new wilderness access point there near the old Job Corps site.
  • Removing the abandoned Treasure Lake Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center at the southern edge of the Wilderness and restoring the area to natural conditions.
  • Removing the Sunset Recreation Area facilities that sit just outside the wilderness boundary on the north side of the Wilderness and restoring it to natural conditions, and closing that current access road and wilderness access point.
  • Creating a new wilderness access point from the current ware yard and Headquarters area to replace the Sunset Picnic Area access, re-routing a short segment of hiking trail, and allowing for the removal of bridges within the Wilderness by not having to cross Sunset Pool.
  • Removing a sewage lagoon and the sight of buildings from within the Charons Garden Wilderness unit at the Job Corps site, the Sunset Recreation Area, and the current administrative Headquarters site.



Photo: Alex Butterfield via Flickr


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