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Pictures From The Missing Lake



The Name Was Born of The Buoyant Confidence of Squatters Who Scratched Out a Place in The High Plains of No Man’s Land. A cluster of homes was built in 1886, before land ownership was allowed in the area, west of the Cherokee Outlet.

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Yet its founders hoped for the best. They called their town Optima, from the Latin for best possible result. The town inspired the name of nearby Optima Lake. On a map of the Oklahoma Panhandle, the lake beckons – a crescent-shaped splash of blue in eastern Texas County.

In reality, the lake barely exists at all.

Conceived as an FDR-era New Deal project, the lake and dam were authorized by U.S. Congress as part of the Flood Control Act of 1936, part of a master plan to control the cycles of drought and dust in the American West. The design called for four projects on the North Canadian River: reservoirs at Optima, Fort Supply and Canton, and the construction of the Oklahoma City Floodway. Three were built. The Optima project stalled.

It would take 30 years of planning and lobbying to win enough allies to fund the project. Supporters waxed on with Panglossian pluck, insisting that a dam and reservoir would transform the semi-arid rangeland into an oasis on the Plains, a jewel in the crown of Oklahoma’s collection of more than 200 man-made lakes.

Though original designs had outlined an earthen dam 65 feet tall and 4,200 feet long, it was decided that would not be large enough. Revised plans called for a dam 85 feet high and 10,800 feet long, expanded not only to include farm irrigation, flood control and a drinking-water supply, but to create a center for recreation and a source for hydroelectricity. A brochure from the Guymon Chamber of Commerce promoting the project told of the reservoir that would be created: up to 100 feet deep, backing up 10 miles on the Beaver River and nine miles on Coldwater Creek. There would be water skiing. Fishing. Speed-boat racing. And tourists, lots of tourists.

So in 1966, 30 years after its first approval, construction began. By the time the project was completed 12 years later, the dam would stand 120 feet high and nearly three miles long. Total cost: $46.1 million.

Yet despite its massive size, despite the civic will of regional businesses, despite the political muscle of U.S. Senator Robert S. Kerr and U.S. Speaker of the House Carl Albert, despite the very optimism that conjured the dam into being, the mammoth project failed.

The reason is simple. The water supply dried up, and the reservoir never filled.

The source of the lake was to be the Beaver River, known downstream as the North Canadian. As the 20th century progressed, the river slowed to a trickle as levels dropped in the Ogallala Aquifer, the water table beneath Oklahoma and parts of seven other Western states. In 50 years, demand for water increased 25-fold, mostly due to expanded irrigation. Since the 1950s, the Ogallala has lost an estimated 11 percent of its volume. There would not be enough to create an oasis after all.

During the first full year of operation, in 1979, the Corps declared, “the optimum visitation for the project is 600,000 annual visitors and will be reached in 2014.”

But just as the flow of water was miscalculated, so was the stream of visitors. Somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 people a year now make the trek.

As the dream of Optima crumbled and budget cuts kicked in, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ended onsite operations in 1995. All services have since been cut off. The Corps of Engineers conceded in a 2010 report: “The authorized purposes that Optima Lake was built for have never been fully realized.”

Today, the grounds feel post-apocalyptic, dotted with remnants of a lost civilization. Bullet-riddled signs announce the Optima Dam and surrounding National Wildlife Refuge. The outbuildings have been torn down for safety’s sake, leaving little more than long dirt roads and disintegrating asphalt. Concrete picnic tables squat heavily on large slabs installed atop the parched biscuit-colored plain. Some tables get intermittent shade from contorted trees, gnarled and twisted by the wind. Desert grasses cleave long cracks through acres of parking lot pavement, checker-boarding through hundreds of empty spots for the tourists who never came.

A massive boat launch with ribbed ramp leads down what would have been the bottom of the lake. At the end of the ramp, a long dirt road snakes away, tall grasses bristling between the two tracks. Towering above the plain, the desolate dam bakes in the sun.

As the federal government and local groups discuss what should happen next, yucca and hardy wildflowers spread out among the buffalo grass. Prairie dogs scurry among the fields. Quail and pheasant, deer and turkey thrive beneath skies that are a flyway for migratory birds.

As they ponder, the land is returning to its natural state.

And that may, in the end, be the best possible result.

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Editor’s Note: This is the 20th installment in a continuing series as author and photographer M.J. Alexander chronicles her travels across the state of Oklahoma.

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Calendar

September 2019

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Start your Sunday morning by perfecting your practice during our outdoor yoga class. Enjoy the beauty of yoga outdoors in the glow of the Ferris Wheel lights! This class welcomes all levels, from...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wheeler Ferris Wheel
1701 S. Western Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73109
View map »

More information

Art Moments 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Enjoy a variety of 10-minute spotlight talks throughout the galleries to introduce different works in the Museum’s temporary exhibitions or permanent...

Cost: Free with Museum admisison

Where:
National Cowboy Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

EVERY BRILLIANT THING strikes a delicate balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter as it recounts a life lived in the shadow of suicide.  By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe,...

Cost: 40.00

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Rep
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Join us at September's Lift Session for an inside look at Oklahoma's expanding local food and agriculture economy. The event will feature panelists Erick Worrell from Ghost, speaking on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Vanessa House Beer Co.
118 NW 8th Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405-475-3782
Contact Name: Kristin Alsup
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Art Awakening 2019 is our sixth annual art show highlighting the artistic talents of persons living with mental illness and addiction. The event is family-friendly, free to attend and open to...

Cost: FREE

Where:
NorthCare
2617 General Pershing Blvd.
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: NorthCare
Telephone: 405-858-2706
Contact Name: Kaitlynn Wilkinson
Website »

More information

Aging doesn’t have to mean getting old, slowing down, or dealing with falls. Aging should come with the dignity and independence of a life well lived. The risk of falling as we age is...

Cost: Free

Where:
FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers of Oklahoma City
7415 N May Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73116
View map »


Sponsor: FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers of Oklahoma City
Telephone: 405-400-8909
Contact Name: Sean
Website »

More information

Join us Thursday, Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. when Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame inductee Justin Echols helps to kick off the 19th season of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s acclaimed...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Ballroom
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405-574-1310
Contact Name: Katie Davis
Website »

More information

As seen on America's Got Talent, this comedic adventure, written by opera-veteran Matthew Lord with music arranged by award-winning composer Craig Bohmler, has been said to be the closest...

Cost: $35-$40

Where:
OCCC Visual and Performing Arts Center
7777 South May Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73159
View map »


Sponsor: BancFirst

More information

EVERY BRILLIANT THING strikes a delicate balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter as it recounts a life lived in the shadow of suicide.  By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe,...

Cost: 40.00

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Rep
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Musical Swings is an interactive public art installation featuring 10 swings that each activate a different note, allowing participants to make music, connect to one another and have a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bicentennial Park
201 North Walker Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Community Foundation
Telephone: 405-606-2922
Contact Name: Kasey Gardner
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Produced and Organized, Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co. presents an all-Oklahoma, all-Original Music festival located in Bricktown. This is a free event for the community, featuring Oklahoma-original...

Cost: free

Where:
Bricktown
Oklahoma City, OK


Sponsor: Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co.
Telephone: 405-740-9618
Contact Name: Jessica Gwinner
Website »

More information

Produced and Organized, Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co. presents an all-Oklahoma, all-Original Music festival located in Bricktown. This is a free event for the community, featuring Oklahoma-original...

Cost: free

Where:
Bricktown
Oklahoma City, OK


Sponsor: Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co.
Telephone: 405-740-9618
Contact Name: Jessica Gwinner
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and, quite possibly, an amazing...

Cost: Adult: $20 Seniors and Children: $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

Join us for a night of music under the Ferris Wheel lights. Enjoy live music from Saint Loretto, Flock of Pigs, and Sophia Massad. Come hungry: Taco Nation, Wicked Hangry, Cook'n It...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wheeler Ferris Wheel
1701 S. Western Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73109
View map »

More information

EVERY BRILLIANT THING strikes a delicate balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter as it recounts a life lived in the shadow of suicide.  By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe,...

Cost: 40.00

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Rep
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

The Barber of Seville Rossini’s comic masterpiece comes to the Freede Little Theater! When Count Almaviva and his love Rosina run into an issue preventing them from being married -...

Cost: $35 or $50. Prices do not include fees.

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Painted Sky Opera
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

With Special Guest Joe Robinson “If you like guitar playing, it simply doesn’t get any better than Tommy.” – Jason Isbell Tommy Emmanuel has achieved enough musical...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Hudiburg Chevrolet Cneter
6000 Prosper Blvd
Midwest City, OK  73110
View map »


Sponsor: Emporium Presents
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Musical Swings is an interactive public art installation featuring 10 swings that each activate a different note, allowing participants to make music, connect to one another and have a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bicentennial Park
201 North Walker Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Community Foundation
Telephone: 405-606-2922
Contact Name: Kasey Gardner
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

The Hennessey Wine & Chocolate Festival has become legendary in Oklahoma, drawing thousands of wine and chocolate connoisseurs. Spend the afternoon in the beautiful Hennessey Memorial...

Cost: $15

Where:
Memorial Park
204 N Main St
Hennessey, OK  73742
View map »


Sponsor: Hennessey United
Telephone: 580-484-1682
Contact Name: Angela Bruner
Website »

More information

America’s largest interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: $59.95

Where:
The Skirvin Hilton
1 Park Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: The Dinner Detective
Telephone: 866.496.0535
Website »

More information

We're poppin' champagne on the patio this Saturday and raffling off a bottle of Perrier-Jouet valued at $300! Come pre-party with us and DJ Catherine Ouellette from 6pm-10pm -...

Cost: Free

Where:
Sheraton Oklahoma City Downtown Hotel
1, N Broadway Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »

More information

Produced and Organized, Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co. presents an all-Oklahoma, all-Original Music festival located in Bricktown. This is a free event for the community, featuring Oklahoma-original...

Cost: free

Where:
Bricktown
Oklahoma City, OK


Sponsor: Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co.
Telephone: 405-740-9618
Contact Name: Jessica Gwinner
Website »

More information

Produced and Organized, Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co. presents an all-Oklahoma, all-Original Music festival located in Bricktown. This is a free event for the community, featuring Oklahoma-original...

Cost: free

Where:
Bricktown
Oklahoma City, OK


Sponsor: Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co.
Telephone: 405-740-9618
Contact Name: Jessica Gwinner
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and, quite possibly, an amazing...

Cost: Adult: $20 Seniors and Children: $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

EVERY BRILLIANT THING strikes a delicate balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter as it recounts a life lived in the shadow of suicide.  By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe,...

Cost: 40.00

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Rep
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

For the First time ever in Oklahoma City Pauleen & La Brasa present Bollywood Dance Night . Introducing Hindi Music @La Brasa Saturday 21st September. 10 PM 

Cost: $5

Where:
La Brasa
1310 NW 25th ST
Oklahoma , OK  73106
View map »


Sponsor: Pauleen
Contact Name: Pauleen

More information

La Brasa & Pauleen present Bollywood Night at La Brasa this Saturday, September 21st.  This is one of the first Hindi Music events to happen in Oklahoma City and anyone can come...

Cost: $5

Where:
La Brasa
1310 NW 25th St
Oklahoma City , OK  73105
View map »


Telephone: 405-524-2251
Contact Name: Pauleen
Website »

More information

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