LEXINGTON'S FACELIFT: Dahlgren Lake, gun range being renovated by the Wildlife Department
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's most popular wildlife management area is getting a major makeover.
The agency is sinking more than $500,000 into rebuilding Dahlgren Lake and improving the shooting range on the Lexington Wildlife Management Area in Cleveland County.
Because it is on the doorstep of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, Lexington gets visited by hunters, shooters, anglers, campers and wildlife watchers more than any other WMA in the state.
The Lexington WMA gets 70,000 visitors annually, said Rex Umber, who has been the wildlife biologist at Lexington for three decades.
“We've always been hammered hard,” Umber said.
Kurt Kuklinski, supervisor of the Fisheries Research Lab in Norman, said the popularity of the Lexington WMA justifies the hefty price tag of the facelift.
“We understand the value of that management area,” Kuklinski said.
There are several factors that contribute to Lexington's high visitation:
• It is the only WMA that provides hunting and fishing within 100 miles of the state's largest metro area.
• It has the only free shooting range fairly close to the metro area.
• It offers more controlled hunts (selected by a random drawing through the Wildlife Department) than any other WMA.
The renovation projects on the Lexington WMA were largely funded by federal dollars the Wildlife Department receives from excise taxes collected on the sale of outdoor-related products such as guns, hunting and fishing gear, etc.
The work on the shooting range was paid by state hunting license dollars and federal Wildlife Restoration program funds, while the Dahlgren Lake renovation was funded by state fishing license dollars and federal Sport Fish Restoration program funds. In both cases, the split is 75 percent federal and 25 percent state.
The National Rifle Association also contributed $6,000 for the gun range improvements.
The 9,512-acre Lexington WMA has an interesting military history. Before World War II, the land was part of a Naval Gunnery School that trained sailors to shoot firearms, including machine guns.
The land was deeded to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation in 1951. Two years later, Dahlgren Lake was built and named after Slim Dahlgren, director of the agency at the time.
In addition to the lake, there are about 30 other ponds on the WMA that contain sunfish and bass, and five of them are stocked with channel cats.
Last year, the 30-acre lake was completely drained by state wildlife officials as they began work to improve fishing and boating access.
Because of the drought in 2013 and 2014, Dahlgren Lake receded so low that aquatic weeds began to take over.
“Then when the water level came back up in 2015, we ended up with this really, big massive ring of thick coontail and thick aquatic vegetation,” Kuklinski said.
The lake became difficult to fish, especially for bank anglers, so the agency decided to rebuild it. The lake was drained and banks were reshaped. Fishing jetties were repaired and more were added to improve fishing access.
"We are trying to make it a lot more accessible, especially to bank anglers, while we improve the slope to correct our vegetation problem as well,” Kuklinski said.
The old boat ramp was torn out and a new one was poured. The parking lot was expanded. Trees that were removed to pave a new parking lot were planted upside-down in the lake bed for fish habitat.
The work is nearing completion, Kuklinski said.
“If we get enough rain this fall, I plan to stock sunfish in it this fall,” he said. “It's not going to have a quality bass fishery or catfishery until probably another two years down the road.”
The public shooting range on the Lexington WMA is currently closed while berms are redone, covered shooting benches are installed and a new 25-yard pistol range is added.
State wildlife officials are also making the shooting range compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act by building wheelchair ramps.
Lance Meek, who is in charge of the shooting range project for the Wildlife Department, said 10,028 pounds of lead were removed from the berms on the Lexington WMA.
Those lead fragments were sent to a Kansas recycler where they will be made into more bullets, he said.
The Wildlife Department has 11 other shooting ranges on WMAs in the state, but Lexington's is the most visited by far.
The agency plans to renovate all of the WMA shooting ranges over the next five years and then build more, Meek said.
The work on Lexington's range should be finished by the end of September, and it will likely reopen to the public in October, Meek said.