Time to speak up!
Photo Credit: 
Chronicle photo by Lisa Carroll
Last year, officials with the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge closed the Mount Scott roadway to vehicles after it was determined unsafe for vehicular use due to erosion caused by heavy rainfall. On Aug. 27, 2019, the refuge issued a complete closure for the area as construction to repair the damaged road began. Since then, WMWR staff have received numerous complaints from visitors about safety concerns. The refuge is now seeking pub- lic ideas and comments on how to make the best use of the roadway
Last year, officials with the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge closed the Mount Scott roadway to vehicles after it was determined unsafe for vehicular use due to erosion caused by heavy rainfall. On Aug. 27, 2019, the refuge issued a complete closure for the area as construction to repair the damaged road began. Since then, WMWR staff have received numerous complaints from visitors about safety concerns. The refuge is now seeking pub- lic ideas and comments on how to make the best use of the roadway

WMWR - Public input is being sought concerning the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, which could potentially lead to a change in the way visitors have future access to Mount Scott. The 3-mile road winding up the popular tourist attraction was initially closed to vehicle traffic in September 2018 after WMWR officials say heavy rainfall was found to have eroded sections of the roadway's foundation. Although the road was designed and constructed in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration to allow water to flow naturally, a 2018 press release issued by the refuge states that the pathways for water shifted and were reshaped by heavy rains, causing the erosion. After inspections were completed and engineers reviewed the findings last year, it was determined that severe undercutting of the foundation was "making it unstable for the consistent weight of vehicles" and the only road up and down the mountain was deemed unsafe for vehicular use.

COMPLETE CLOSURE OF AREA

Since then, bicyclists and pedestrians have had temporary use of the roadway, but only up until recently. On Aug. 27, 2019, the refuge issued a complete closure of the Mount Scott area, as construction to stabilize the roadway began. According to information provided by refuge officials, better and safer access to the roadway has been a topic brought up by numerous visitors since last year's vehicle closure. "Wichita Mountains is committed to keeping Mt. Scott available to the public, "said Visitor Services Manager Lynn Cartmell in a recent press release. "Over the last several months, many visitors have shared their near miss and accident experiences with refuge staff increasing our concern about the safety of refuge visitors. "We understand that everyone wants to use the roadway. We're asking for input from our visitors so that we can understand how to best accommodate as many user groups as possible and find workable solutions for shared access."

VEHICLES AND HIKERS

When asked to elaborate on the "near miss and accident experiences," Lynn said the refuge has received several complaints from hikers who say they've almost been run off the road by vehicles. Concerns also included drivers who say they have narrowly missed hikers who have accidentally stepped out in front of their moving vehicles, she said.  "They're user conflicts, all related to safety. The concerns are about people not being cognizant of their own space," said Lynn. "We're just trying to come up with a solution so everybody can share access." As a way to test and moderate user access, the refuge had previously asked pedestrians and bicyclists to be off of the Mount Scott roadway by 9 a.m. Due to timing and staffing issues, Lynn said the plan is ultimately not being viewed as a feasible solution going forward. Hoping to provide safety for all visitors while making the best use of the roadway when it does open back up to visitors, WMWR is requesting comments and ideas from the public.

PUBLIC MEETING

At 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 30, the refuge will host a public meeting at the Lawton Public Library, located at 110 SW 4th Street, seeking input. Anyone unable to attend the public meeting will have the option to submit their comments by mail or email. Written comments can be mailed to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, 32 Refuge Headquarters, Indiahoma, OK 73552. Emails with "Mt. Scott" Commercially Endorsed Free Estimates Fully Insured PREFERRED CONTRACTOR in the subject line can be sent to wmr_publiccomment@fws. gov. All comments must be received by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 15, 2019, to be considered. According to the press release, "All comments are considered public record. Anonymous, oral and social media comments will not be considered. The Service will take all submissions from individuals, organizations or businesses, available for public inspection in their entirety. "Individual respondents may request that their names and addresses be withheld from public record. If you wish to withhold your name and/or address, you must state that request prominently at the beginning of your comment. The Service will honor such requests to the extent of the law." While Mount Scott roadway construction is well underway, refuge officials have not provided an exact timeframe for when the project will be completed or when the road will reopen to visitors. Lynn says construction crews are currently shoring up culverts, installing new culverts where necessary and injecting concrete under the roadway to fill any gaps to reinforce the road. If all goes as planned, Lynn said she's hopeful the road will be back open by the end of this year.