Choctaw, Wildlife Department Pact Yields Lake Nanih Waiya Upgrades

Improvements in and around Lake Nanih Waiya in Pushmataha County are taking shape thanks to an agreement signed last year between the Choctaw Nation and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

“We are still less than a year into the agreement, and it is already a success,” said Don Groom, Southeast Region fisheries supervisor for the Wildlife Department. “We are working closely with Choctaw Nation staff to better maintain the area and improve access.”

Lake Nanih Waiya is among 16 fishing lakes owned by the Wildlife Department. It was built in 1958 and has 131 surface acres of water.

The agreement calls for the Nation to maintain the lake area, a place of historical significance to Choctaws. The Department may provide training and guidance as well as communicate with the Nation regarding any major improvements. The Department also has sole responsibility for managing wildlife conservation efforts around the lake.

“While the Nation focuses on mowing and litter control, ODWC’s focus has been on dam and spillway maintenance,” Groom said. “My staff has been able to make great headway in clearing the dam and spillway area from vegetation, and the Nation has been very helpful in burning the brush piles left behind from the clearing.”

Herbicide treatment conducted by the Nation and ODWC to fishing jetties and the dam area are also showing signs of success. The Nation consulted with ODWC on what herbicide to use, location and timing. The Nation treated the jetties and other bank access areas, while ODWC treated areas more easily reached by boat.

“We use an aquatic pesticide and treat vegetation in increments. We treat smaller areas of aquatic vegetation sporadically around the lake,” Groom said. “We don’t want to treat too big of an area at once, as that can cause water quality problems.“Our treatments are focused on improving bank access, areas around the dam, dock, spillway, bridges and culverts.”

Visitors will notice new trashcans that the Nation has installed and now maintains. “We have four Department-owned fishing lakes in the Southeast Region, and trash is one of the most time-consuming tasks we have. It is sad to see the amount of trash along the highway, but it is especially disheartening to see the dumping and trash around the lakes and streams. Who thinks that’s OK?”

Groom asks visitors to notify a local game warden or law enforcement officer of anyone seen littering or vandalizing at the area, providing descriptions and vehicle tag numbers if possible.

The Nation recently conducted a prescribed burn in the southwestern part of the public fishing area. “The Nation’s willingness to extend efforts beyond the agreement to help with these items is greatly appreciated.”

The Department has built new fencing and gates to maintain and protect the dam from premature erosion and control woody vegetation. Guests will still have the opportunity to access the dam area, but access will be limited to foot traffic only.

In 2015, the Department’s fisheries personnel began a yearlong visitors’ survey of recreational uses at Nanih Waiya and then developed a list of maintenance needs and improvements that helped shape the Choctaw-ODWC agreement. The Department and the Nation have discussed those needs as well as other items including prescribed burns, a winter draw-down, improving camping opportunities, and improving bank access.

“Prior to the partnership, we had already identified improving bank access as a high priority and had made some progress near the boat ramp,” Groom said. “With help from the Nation, we will be able to accomplish these types of improvements much quicker.

“Our hope is that we can provide an area that benefits the community and improves the quality of life,” he said. “Overall, I think visitors and recreationalists will approve of what they see happening with the improvements and the maintenance over the next year or two.”