Lake Wister: History and Attractions for Lake Wister State Park

Updated on December 23, 2017
Urbane Chaos profile image

I am a freelance writer with an interest in history. My main focus is writing about Oklahoma.

Wister Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Southeast Oklahoma. It is located in LeFlore County on the boundary of the Ouachita Mountains and the Arkoma Basin, just south of Wister, Oklahoma.

Lake Wister, Oklahoma
Lake Wister, Oklahoma

Construction of Wister Lake

In addition to the large wildlife preserve surrounding the lake, this Oklahoma attraction contains cabins, RV rental sites, walking and hiking trails, boat launches, a mini-golf course, splash-pad, and community center.

Construction was started April 1946 and completed May 1949. The Wister Lake project was authorized by the 1938 Flood Control Act. Prior to its construction, periodic flooding towns located downstream along the Poteau River would occur. One of the worst was in 1927 when nearly the entire town of Wister was underwater. The flood was so bad, water easily reached the second floors of most of the businesses downtown. The 1927 Wister flood was also one of the most forceful floods in the area in recorded history. The flood surge was so strong that it swept train tracks off of the railroad bed, causing an untold amount of damage.

A report presented on June 30, 1969 stated that flooding was prevented on 19,700 acres of land. Monetary benefits for prevention of flood damages were an estimated $20,680,000.

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Wister Flood of 1927Wister Flood of 1927
Wister Flood of 1927
Wister Flood of 1927
Wister Flood of 1927
Wister Flood of 1927

After the project was approved, construction of the main 5,700 foot long earth-fill dam began. The main dam rises 99 feet above the old Poteau River bed. The Wister Reservoir controls a drainage area of 993 square miles. The total federal cost was $10,501,266.

As a by-product of construction, Quarry Island was created. As the lake was being formed, dirt and rock not used in the earth-fill dam was piled up in the center of the lake. Although this was not initially conceived for use as recreational facilities, it quickly became the focal point of the newly created lake.

Regulations during the reservoir construction included around 30,000 acres for conservation. Additionally, sedimentation reserve, recreation, and wildlife preservation areas were set up, totaling around 430,000 acres.

Major tributaries below Wister Reservoir are Brazil Creek, with a drainage area of 234 square miles, and James Fork Creek, with a drainage area of 201 square miles.

The Poteau Valley Improvement Authority was initially formed about this time, but it wasn’t established as a State of Oklahoma trust until 1960. It was established for “public purposes and functions.” More specifically, it was established “To institute, furnish, provide and supply…any or all improvements, services, and physical facilities, except gas and electric utilities, for safeguarding of public health, the protection of persons and property, and the conservation and implementation of public welfare…” Originally, the PVIA was created during negotiations when the dam was in its initial planning phases. The purpose has remained the same ever since then.

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Survey Photos of the Lake Wister area before constructionSurvey Photos of the Lake Wister area before constructionPostcard showing Lake Wister
Survey Photos of the Lake Wister area before construction
Survey Photos of the Lake Wister area before construction
Survey Photos of the Lake Wister area before construction
Survey Photos of the Lake Wister area before construction
Postcard showing Lake Wister
Postcard showing Lake Wister

Early Celebrations

Lake Wister is just south of the town of Wister. It is a long, shallow lake and has a shoreline of around 115 miles. It’s average depth is 7.5 feet with the deepest point being at 44 feet along the course of the old Poteau River.

Almost immediately following the completion of the dam, celebrations began taking place. One of the biggest events was the grand opening of Lake Wister. The grand opening included boat races, live music, and other festivities.

A few years later, in 1957, a tourist publication promotes Wister Lake as one of the most visited areas in Southeast Oklahoma. During that year, there was a $10,000 Wister Lake Fishing Derby. Commissioner Raymond Lucas from Howe caught the “big channel catfish”. Catfish caught in the lake during the Wister Lake Fishing Derby was worth “somewhere between $500 and $5,000”, as long as it was caught by a derby permit holder during the first two weeks of June.

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Grand Opening Celebrations: Boat Races at Wister LakeWister Lake, 1956Fishing competition at Wister Lake
Grand Opening Celebrations: Boat Races at Wister Lake
Grand Opening Celebrations: Boat Races at Wister Lake
Wister Lake, 1956
Wister Lake, 1956
Fishing competition at Wister Lake
Fishing competition at Wister Lake

Wister Lake Today

Today, Wister Lake still remains one of the most visited places in Southeast Oklahoma. They have two major festivals each year, one during Halloween and one during Christmas.

The Trail of Treats and Thrills draws people from all over the region. The Halloween walk runs down the center of Querry Isle and concludes with a large costume contest at the public pavilion near the end.

The Lights on the Island, headed up by the Poteau Chamber of Commerce is a wonderful drive through Christmas light spectle.

Throughout the year, there are also other fishing competitions and a home-made boat race.

25567 US Hwy 270 Wister, OK 74966

Phone: 918-655-7212

Fax: 918-655-7274

A marker 25567 US Hwy 270 Wister , OK 74966 -
Lake Wister State Park, 25567 US-270, Wister, OK 74966, USA
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    • Urbane Chaos profile image
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      Eric Standridge 6 weeks ago from Wister, Oklahoma

      There are still some things that I would like to add to the Lake Wister, such as the towns that were buried by the dam. Before I add those though, I want to make sure I have all of the facts on them. It's interesting for sure!

    • srsddn profile image

      srsddn 6 weeks ago from Dehra Dun, India

      Quite interesting Hub, immersed in complete historical perspective. Its timely completion ensured huge returns for the next generations to enjoy numerous attractions. Thanks for sharing, Eric.