Two B’s… Two W’s

Woodwork and wine are two reasons why Broken Bow has a million visitors a year.

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Peter Toth restored “Whispering Giant” by adding aging to the face to reflect the time since it was originally sculpted.
Photo courtesy Forest Heritage Center

Broken Bow. Woodwork. Wine.

An alliterative combination symbolizes old meeting new in this hub of forestry and tourism in far southeastern Oklahoma … as a million yearly visitors know.

The Wood Art Capital of Oklahoma is the Forest Heritage Center in Beavers Bend State Park, alongside Broken Bow Lake.

“When we started in 1976, we had no idea that it would become such a focus for woodwork,” Forest Heritage Center Director Doug Zook says. “[Hungarian] sculptor Peter Toth carved a piece in his ‘Whispering Giant’ series because Beavers Bend has over 50 species of trees.

“That began our association with wood art. Toth’s sculpture in front our building is the most photographed object in the park.”

The center has regular exhibits and teaches woodturning (using a lathe). The Masters at Work competition, Sept. 8-9, is an annual highlight.

A half-dozen woodturners are “given specific projects and a time limit,” Zook says. “This year, it’s going to be on bowls. Everything created by the masters is sold or donated to benefit food banks throughout McCurtain County. We raised $10,000 last time.”

Zook’s predecessor, Michelle Finch, remains on the forest center’s board and co-owns Girls Gone Wine. That winery, in its 12th year, is one of three within a few miles of each other on U.S. 259; the other two began the same day in March 2016.

Finch’s father was U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager in the early years of Broken Bow Lake in the 1970s. Her husband, Terry Walker, was a park manager at Beavers Bend.

“Our community worked hard to change the image of this area,” Finch says. “In the ’80s and ’90s, we had a crime problem, quite frankly, but it’s beautiful here. We showed that the forest industry and tourism can co-exist. We wanted to give kids a reason to stay.”

Walker, incidentally, works at Girls Gone Wine and “recently got promoted from wine boy to wine stud. We’re even paying him a little bit now,” says Finch, laughing.

Vojai Reed, owner of Vojai’s Winery, is the mother of Rhonda Reed, one of Finch’s partners. Vojai and her late husband, Charlie Reed, are the only spouses to have won prestigious national titles in bass fishing. Big names in the sport shop at her place.

“Jimmy Houston just came by yesterday,” she says.

Cabins have existed since Beavers Bend began in the 1930s; development came in the 1990s when forests opened for cabins. In the past 20 years, the number has gone from 500 to 2,200, the Broken Bow Chamber of Commerce notes.

Jesse King and her husband, who ran the Three Rivers Fly Shop from 1997 to 2016, converted their business into Fish Tales Winery last year.

“The growth is just crazy,” she says. “There’s a lot of opportunity in this area.”

FUN FACTS

Population
4,103

Deep Blue
Broken Bow Lake is 185 feet, making it the deepest lake in Oklahoma and the fourth largest in the state in size.

Con-Chito
The name of the Choctaw village that eventually became Broken Bow

Nebraska?
Broken Bow, Nebraska, whence came pioneer lumbermen Herman and Fred Dierks, who began a private community and named it after their hometown

Happy Trails
Beavers Bend State Park has 16 miles of hiking trails.

Birding Eden
McCurtain County is home to 324 species of birds.

Wood Art
The Forest Heritage Center has 14 dioramas painted by Harry Rossoll, the artist who created the National Park Service’s iconic Smoky Bear.

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