Planning our Future
Hochatown did not boom overnight. The tourism economy has been a long, slow, steady growth. The enduring popularity of Beavers Bend State Park and Broken Bow Lake is a cornerstone of the tourism economy for southeastern Oklahoma.
Slow Growth, 1958-1968. Broken Bow lake was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of the Flood Control Act of 1958. Construction began in the 1960s. Residents were moved out of the community, where they abandoned their farms, and homes, and whiskey stills. Kincaid’s Hochatown store and U.S. Post Office were shuttered in 1963. The Union church, a structure where several denominations shared it for services, was relocated to higher ground. The white church building can now be seen on Hwy 259. It is still used for community meetings and heritage reunions.
As the waters filled the low valley community along the banks of the Mountain Fork River, the bones of preceding generations were moved to the new cemetery, next to the new church site. As Old Hochatown disappeared under the cold, dark waters, the citizens held onto what traditions they could. Tammy R. Mills remembered “My granny Gracie and one of her grandkids painted the Hochatown Cemetery bell every year until she passed away. Her father did it before her in the original Cemetery.” The last permanent residents left “Old Hochatown” in 1966 as the rising waters creeped higher onto the concrete doorsteps leading to their home.
The Now Generation, 1970s. Local teenagers began sneaking onto the lake under construction and would water ski at midnight. Janine Carter became one of the first teenagers to come of age on Broken Bow Lake. She was eleven years old when dam construction brought her father to Hochatown “My Dad, Bob Finch, was the Lake Manager from that time forward through the 1970's. He also had to manage the local teenagers whose past time was to build campfires and hang out at the lake. He always knew where we were planning to be! He would cruise through slowly. He would make a deal with us, and not stop, unless there were beer cans on the ground. He worked very closely with his white German Shepherd, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Don Sands, to keep us, and all the tourists, in line.”
Other teenagers were brought to Hochatown through their parents’ work associated with the building of recreational opportunities on Broken Bow Lake. Larry W. Owens was one of the luckier teenagers. In 1970, his parents bought the Beavers Bend Marina from Rudolf Harris. By the early 1970s, teenagers were naming their favorite places - Reasoner’s Point and Hippie Point (Crystal Point). As Broken Bow Lake began filling as a flood control reservoir, local developers began platting a new Hochatown, on higher ground.
In 1970, Whip Poor Will Resort, consisting of five rental cabins. It was established by M. T. Mullis and Arvis Petty. It has remained in operation ever since, changing owners several times. The first residential development, Choctaw Hills (48 acres) was platted off the Steven’s Gap Rd. Spring Mountain Estates (10 acres) was platted at Pine Meadow Ln. and Orca Dr. In 1972, Timber Ridge Estates was platted consisting of 80 acres and located on the 259-A Dam Road as well as Beaver Bend Village (40 acres) on 259-A South entrance to Beavers Bend. Cedar Creek Estates (61 acres) came along in 1973. Most of the cabins and homes were of modest size and were primarily occupied by permanent residents. Deer hunting cabins were scattered through the area and were rarely used in the summertime; hunting was a fall and winter activity. Vacant summer cabins and Dallas tourists presented the needed combination for birth of an industry due to a mutual case of supply and demand. Tourists enjoyed visiting Broken Bow Lake, but no hotel was in the area. The first hotel, Lakeview Lodge, would not be built until 1997.
Cabin rentals were contracted through word of mouth. B. J. Zimmerman, proprietor of the Mountaineer Store at Hochatown Junction collected money from visitors, directed guests to a vacant cabin, and returned a portion of the collected fees to owners. It worked this way for years. A few organized cabin rentals began to appear on the 259 main corridor – KOA, which is the proposed site for a new Choctaw Casino and Sleepy Hollow Cabins next to Camp Ranch Rd.
1980s Progress. A definitive tourism-based economy was beginning to emerge for Hochatown. Tracy Boyer, an Oklahoma State University research scientist, studied water and recreation-based economies. “Public policy is often based on zero value of recreational use of water. Critical revenue is generated for rural based economies.” Jack Bell operated a bait shop, later sold to Mike Ward, operated as the Lakeside Grocery (now Chigger’s Bar) across from Steve’s Marine on Steven’s Gap Rd. You could buy Mr. Ward’s home-made venison jerky (probably not USDA approved back then). Steve’s Marine is still in operation in the same location as a mom-and-pop business, fixing motors and covering boat cushions in Sunbrella.
As the tourism economy improved, so did Hochatown infrastructure. Previously, if you wanted running water at your cabin, it was necessary to dig a well. The McCurtain County Rural Water District #5 began laying pipe in 1988 and began service with 87 customers. According to Rod Pratt, manager, “The original system was engineered to serve 250 members.” Hochatown Water now services over 1800 customers, with the majority being rental cabins. Hochatown was beginning to grow but few people were paying much attention. Choctaw Electric began charging a premium rate to construct electric service for vacation use cabins. These cabins now represent a significant proportion of profits generated for the electric cooperative.
Internet Connects Hochatown Cabins to the World, 1990s. By the 1990s, about fifty cabins were owned and operated by a few independent cabin rental management companies. In the late 1990s, the first cabin rental websites joined the Internet age. The whole world could find Hochatown, but mostly the draw was from the Dallas Fort-Worth metroplex. About three real estate agents could handle the business of buying and selling cabins. Still in operation today, as they were then, are Kiamichi Real Estate and Sacks Team. Hochatown now has more than twenty real estate agents.
2000-2019, Hochatown Cabins. The real estate industry would change considerably as the new century began.
The permanent resident population of Hochatown is approximately 400 people. However, through March 2019, the number of Hochatown residential developments climbed to 69, totaling more than 2685 acres of developed land, a leap compared to the ten to forty-acre developments of the 1970s. An estimated 2500 or more cabins are in the area. The steady rise in awareness of Hochatown vacation rental cabins is due to the concerted efforts of the McCurtain County Tourism Authority (MCTA). Monies were ear-marked solely for advertising. For every one-hundred dollars spent on lodging, three dollars is collected as a lodging tax. MCTA receives 85% of monies collected. Annual collections are expected to exceed two million dollars for fiscal year 2020-2021.
New businesses began to flourish to support the rapidly expanding tourism. Gift shops, a petting zoo, wildlife museum, restaurants, putt-putt golf, go-karts, gem-mining, coffee shops, wineries, distilleries, hot dog stands, three different banks, and a real estate title company dot the Highway 259 corridor to Hochatown. Mostly hidden from public view are sustaining industries. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, stonemasons, firewood vendors, cleaning services, solid waste trash collection, septic clean-out, chimney sweeps, laundry services, lawn care, and cabin rental companies operate from home-based businesses. Each contribute untold dollars to the local economy and employee hundreds of McCurtain County residents.
Beyond 2020, Planning the Future. Not only has the Hochatown tourism economy not been an overnight event, but it is also buffered by insulating factors that ensure future stability. National trends indicate travel destinations that are in proximity to national or state parks, wildland areas, and warm climates are popular. With 7.5 million residents in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, the three-hour drive to Hochatown meets the destination criteria. With 2500 cabins available and 7.5 million fleeing the cement-o-plex, we need a small fraction to remain a viable tourist destination.
Steady and sustainable growth is important. Being resilient in adversity is critical too. Tornado, draught, flood, and wildfire are all potential catastrophes. The 2016 devasting forest fires rocked the vacation rental markets of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg TN. By 2018, they have greatly recovered. Learning from those fires, the Oklahoma Forestry Services has been formulating a preparedness plan by mapping and identifying all cabins and evacuation roads.
The Oklahoma Department of Tourism has released a 2021 request for proposals (RFP)to build a dinner-boat attraction for the lake, a new or refurbished hotel, a second marina, and other concessions. On the immediate horizon is resolution to the legal dispute between the City of Broken Bow annexation and the efforts of Hochatown to separately incorporate their community. A district court ruling was rendered in favor of Hochatown. In essence, the ruling vacated the City of Broken Bow’s claims to annexation of selected commercial properties on Hwy 259 in Hochatown. Broken Bow has appealed the decision to the Oklahoma State Court of Appeals.
Many small communities lack sustainable income sources. Hochatown is fortunate to know we will have a vibrant economy. Numerous independent businesses annually generate millions of dollars in gross revenue. A sales tax collection would fund police and fire protection, better roads, professional city government, emergency management, and viable utility services. We would be eligible to apply for state and federal grants for municipal and community improvements.
What talents and resources can you help with? Talent we can use today includes things like:
Social media, writing, editing, publishing, blogger
Website design, maintenance, and optimization
Attend board meetings (city council, fire dept, water dept, electric, tourism, solid waste)
Serve on local boards/HOAs (some restrictions to residents)
PowerPoint and/or short video production
Before / After Hochatown Incorporation
Human Resources – skills to look for when hiring city employees
Legal (municipal, government, real estate)
Municipal services (water, sewer, electric)
Business development / strategic planning / risk management
Police/ Fire/ emergency management (fire, tornado, extended electric/water outages)
Engineering (roads, bridges), solid waste, sewer, water utilities, human resources
Join us in planning our future. Volunteer for Hochatown.