Stillwater’s Lake McMurtry Deals with Damage
Lake McMurtry in Stillwater is a quiet place, one where someone can catch their breath. But McMurtry faces the threat of private development, and on top of that, is recovering from damage done by a company testing deep underground for oil. Despite the obstacles, the Lake hosted the final stop in the Tour de Dirt Mountain Bike Race this past Sunday…
I’m walking with a small group of volunteers on a trail cleanup at McMurtry, getting in last minute preparations for the race. More than 25 miles of trails envelop the lake, shielding walkers, runners and bikers. The cleanup’s taken on a new sense of urgency since September though. That’s when a company came in to find spots to drill for oil. The city of Stillwater had granted the group a work permit, but Scott Stoodley, founder and president of the non-profit Friends of Lake McMurtry, says they left the lake in bad condition.
“They literally trashed the environment, pulverized the soils, destroyed innumerable stream banks, trees.”
Since Dawson Geophysical came in with their heavy equipment, the company has had come back to fix the damage. They cleared wide swaths of land in the forest, which will eventually have to grow back. And trails have to be marked again.
“They did some activities to try to make it right but it’s been impossible to make it right when you’ve taken a gator through a trail system,” said Stoodley.
Tim Baker is in charge of pollution abatement at the Oil and Gas Division in the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
“Being a human activity, accidents will happen. And that’s why we have inspectors to follow up to make sure the rules are being followed and also in the event they find an incident we can get it corrected as quickly as we can.”
Baker says in the case of Lake McMurtry, the damage is the concern of the landowner, the city of Stillwater. In a written statement, the city says it’s been assured the lake will be returned to its original condition.
KOSU reached out to Dawson Geophysical and Red Fork Energy multiple times. Citing company policy, Dawson did not confirm nor deny it did the work at McMurtry. But numerous people told me they saw the company’s equipment at the lake. Red Fork Energy also did not offer comment to KOSU.
Back to McMurtry. Dennis Mayberry has turned the trail system into his pet project as trail coordinator for the local Red Dirt Pedelers. Mayberry saw Sunday’s event as a chance to prove the level of devotion among a small group of volunteers.
“If we cancel the race because of it, that’s just taking away things people plan to do anyway because of somebody else’s decision to destroy the trails.”
So Sunday, more than a hundred bikers took to the wooded paths, a hidden gem in Oklahoma. Mike Kelly has been going to the lake since 1997.
“A lot of us love that lake. You can go to Keystone, or Tenkiller, or Eufaula, anywhere, and not have anything as nice as what we have just ten miles from home.”
Since the city doesn’t own the mineral rights under the trails, Red Fork can go in and do work. Scott Stoodley says his group will keep an eye on the workers, so McMurtry’s trails are preserved for future riders.