Members of the Lakes and Land Commission are happy with proposed development plans for Lakes Lawtonka and Ellsworth.
The proposals, intended to go to the City Council for a decision in May, still recommend the City of Lawton emphasize upgrades at Lawtonka in the initial stage, but design firm Halff Associates did provide recommendations for Lake Ellsworth at the insistence of the Lakes and Land Commission.
Halff has been working for months on master plans for city lakes, as well as Elmer Thomas Park and aquatics facilities, after completing a broad-based master plan last year for all recreation-related activities coordinated by the City of Lawton. The firm has held public meetings and meeting with those most involved with recreation as it moves toward completion of master plans commissioned by the City Council in 2022.
It was members of the Lakes and Land Commission who first publicly questioned Halff’s recommendation that development of lake concession areas initially focus on Lawtonka. Long considered Lawton’s primary recreation lake, Lawtonka accounts for 94 percent of revenue produced from lake activities. While agricultural leases make up 83 percent of the revenue activity from Ellsworth, that lake is considered a prime fishing destination and also is popular with hunters and those who enjoy riding horses.
Halff Project Manager James Hazzard said Halff continues to recommend that Lawton focus its initial attention on Lawtonka, starting with the Granite Cove area on the lake’s southeast shore. But that could mean waiting years before upgrades begin on Ellsworth, and some object to that delay.
“I don’t want to wait 10-15 years for Ellsworth,” said Lakes and Land Commission member Tim Hushbeck, adding some work is needed now — road improvements, beautification efforts, woody debris cleared. “I don’t want to lose sight of Ellsworth with the first focus on Lawtonka.”
Hazzard said Halff designers listened to those objections, and he presented some proposals to commissioners that focus on Ellsworth.
Hazzard said Halff wants to retain as much open space as possible at that lake, while looking at specific upgrades that could encourage visitors. The recommended start place is Ralph’s Resort, on the lake’s southeast edge. That concession is well used by fishermen and those who have boathouses, but Hazzard said the area is hampered by the fact existing amenities are on both sides of the train trestle that runs over the cove. The existing boat ramp is on the trestle’s west side, meaning boats must pass under the trestle to get to it.
That’s one of Halff’s recommendations: move many of the amenities — including the boat dock — to the east side of the trestle. That would provide “better access by larger watercraft,” he said. Other upgrades range from a loop trail along the shoreline, to a pool and splash pad, to new RV rental sites.
Chandler Creek, at the west end of Ralph’s Resort cove area, is the most underdeveloped of Ellsworth’s concession areas, but also holds the most potential, Hazzard said. Plans include adding RV, cabins and tent camping spaces, and amenities such as bathrooms. Hazzard said the area should keep its remote flavor, but also grant more access to the creek bed that flows west of the area under U.S. 62 (now blocked from easy access). The area could be attached to Ralph’s Resort via a hiking trail, he said.
Upgrades planned for Collier’s Landing (on the lake’s east side) and Fisherman’s Cove (southeast corner) range from expanding RV, cabin and tent rental areas, to bathrooms, better day use areas, and limited access to make it easier to collect fees from users. He said the idea is to add amenities that could make an impact quickly.
Despite plans outlined for Ellsworth, Hazzard said Halff still recommends that Lawton launch its renovation program on the south end of Granite Cove at Lake Lawtonka, focusing on upgrades that could make the area a high quality overnight and day use destination. That development plan will serve as the test case, he said, allowing the city to test the waters without stretching itself too thin.
“That’s why we really should start with Granite Cove,” he said.