Shedding Light on the Forest
Local co-op provides new lighting to the Forest Heritage Center
Forest Heritage Center in Beavers Bend State Park | Photos by Anna Politano
Tucked away in the lush green woods at Beavers Bend State Park is the Forest Heritage Center, a museum that tells the story of the forest from its pre-historic beginnings: the Caddo Indians, the traveling timber town camps, papermaking in the south, and more fascinating history of forestry in southeast Oklahoma. For more than 25 years, the museum—which features dioramas painted by Harry Rossoll, the artist who created Smokey Bear, as well as other forestry exhibits— did not have proper lighting to adequately showcase the artwork and historic heirlooms. When Choctaw Electric Cooperative (CEC) based in Hugo, Oklahoma, learned about the need for proper lighting, they orchestrated the right players to fix all the lights at the museum, including interior and exterior lighting. Taking a position of more than a power provider, CEC is an engaged community partner, looking for opportunities to help grow businesses in its service territory, which includes the thriving area of Hochatown and Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. In the spirit of cooperation, CEC and its wholesale power supplier, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC), joined forces with LED USA, a Tulsa-based company and the Kiamichi Technology Center (KTC) based in Idabel, Oklahoma, to complete the much-needed lighting project at the Forest Heritage Center, which includes more than 400 new lighting fixtures.
“This is a special project that will benefit our local communities and the thousands of guests who visit the Forest Heritage Center every year,” Kooney Duncan, CEO of Choctaw Electric Cooperative, said. “The fact that we were able to give students at the Kiamichi Technology Center an opportunity to get involved brings it full circle. The project has made a lasting impact in the students’ lives who worked to install and wire the lights.”
Putting Efficiency Savings to Good Use
At the beginning of 2019, CEC received an allocation of energy efficiency dollars provided by generation and transmission electric cooperative, WFEC, which serves 21 distribution cooperatives in Oklahoma and New Mexico, in addition to the Altus Air Force Base. Traditionally, WFEC provided rebates and energy efficiency programs to member co-ops, but two years ago the power supplier changed their approach by encouraging distribution co-ops to find opportunities in their service territories to use the energy efficiency dollars. The criteria for receiving the funds is based on a methodology that includes a combination of number of meters and total power load across each system. Scott Williams, manager of government relations and communications, said WFEC encourages each co-op to use the dollars in their service territory for a project that has value to the community.
“When Choctaw Electric told us about the lighting project at the Forest Heritage Center, we thought it was a great fit for the energy efficiency dollars. It will help continue to grow the tourism base in southeast Oklahoma enabling the area to thrive,” Williams said.
WFEC connected CEC with LED USA to carry out the project. LED USA representatives visited the museum and evaluated what types of lighting were ideal for the various exhibits. All light fixtures are fitted with energy efficient LED bulbs and provide appropriate lighting with color temperatures that complement the artwork and exhibits.
While looking for opportunities in the community to make an impact, CEC director of public relations, Jia Johnson, learned of the need at the Forest Heritage Center. According to Johnson, CEC will monitor the electricity usage from the new LED lighting and will use the data as a means to educate members about energy efficiency.
“The data analyzed in upcoming months will help CEC in our educational efforts throughout the community,” Johnson said.
Students’ Hands-On Learning
Doug Zook, Forest Heritage Center director, said he was impressed with the professionalism of the students from KTC who worked on the project.
“These students worked extremely well around the public. They were always respectful and hard workers. It has been incredible to work with them,” Zook said.
Without the help from students at KTC, the project—which took approximately six months to complete—could have lasted up to two to three years for completion, according to Duncan.
KTC students working on the project are completing the Industrial Technology program and aspire to get jobs close to home.
“My students would like to stay in the local area,” Jay Smith, KTC instructor, said. “They are learning about residential wiring, electrical commercial needs, maintenance in the electrical and mechanical field as well as industrial maintenance.”
The program lasts for two years and is available for high school juniors and seniors as well as adults.
“This has been a tremendous learning opportunity. I fell in love with this project. I’m really proud of how far we got and how rewarding it is to see the results. We also had to learn important communication skills and how to work as a team,” Sam Mendez, a KTC student from Haworth, Oklahoma, said.
Bright Future for the Forest
Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell commended Choctaw Electric Cooperative for their initiative to improve one of Oklahoma’s touristic landmarks by leveraging the talent of the students from KTC.
“Electric cooperatives understand the power of Oklahomans working together. I can’t praise Choctaw Electric enough for utilizing KTC students to complete these updates,” Pinnell said. “Our career tech system is second to none and is a tremendous asset to our state. This collaborative project allowed local students a hands-on learning opportunity to help improve their community and add value to the area’s tourism.”
According to Zook, other renovations are taking place at the Center including a courtyard update, a new staff kitchen, a remodel of the museum’s entrance and an entrance to the Tree Trail.
“It’s an exciting time to work at the Forest Heritage Center. These are the biggest improvements I have seen in my 25 years at the museum,” Zook said. “We’re grateful to Choctaw Electric for taking on the lighting project. It was much needed. It might seem simple, but it truly is not. It will be a great benefit.”
The museum is operated by the Forest Heritage Center Advisory Board and the Oklahoma Forestry Services. Zook said the museum receives a total of 150,000 guests a year. For Oklahomans who have not yet visited the museum, Zook encourages guests to stop in any time of the year. The staff at the Forest Heritage Center can arrange educational programs or tours for any age group. For more information, visit: www.forestry.ok.gov/fhc