The Forest Heritage Center has been a community anchor in Southeast Oklahoma for over 40 years. It was built by a group of foresters with a vision of telling our story of the history of the forest. Today we are continuing the mission of the founders by educating the public through educational programs, special events, gallery exhibits, and taking every opportunity to educate the public about the positive impact of the forest and its products on our daily lives. We promote not only the traditional forestry industry and its products but also the art of woodworking with wood art exhibits, competitions, and woodturning classes. We are the Wood Art Capital of Oklahoma and the ever important first impression to Beavers Bend State Park. In addition to providing tourists with a favorable experience, our museum introduces people to art and culture in an area of the state where such opportunities are few and far between. A walk through the museum will take you through the history of the forests from prehistoric times to modern with a series of 14 dioramas painted by Smokey Bear artist Harry Rossoll. We have two permanent galleries: the People of the Forest exhibit is an award-winning photo exhibit that shows some of the early day logging operations of the area and highlights the CCC Camps and Traveling Timber Camps in Southeast Oklahoma. The second permanent galley is the Echinata gallery, a wonderful collection of woodturning and wood art.
The Forest Heritage Center works with many partners, assisting with the needs of the museum. Volunteers from 4-H, Boy Scouts, Southeast Oklahoma Woodturners, Friends of Beaver’s Bend, local banks, Junior Chamber of Commerce, and other civic organizations help with setting up and taking down events as well as helping with the gallery exhibits and receptions.
Outreach programs partners include the Broken Bow School, the Museum of the Red River, 4-H and the Southeast Oklahoma Woodturners, Friends of Beavers Bend, Boy Scouts, and the McCurtain County Historical Society.
The Forest Heritage Center is located in the beautiful forests of Beavers Bend State Park in McCurtain County, situated in far southeastern Oklahoma. Communities served by the Forest Heritage Center include not only local residents, but also approximately 1.2 million tourists who visit the park annually.
Southeastern Oklahoma is very rural and among the most economically depressed areas of the state. McCurtain County is the sixth poorest county in Oklahoma and has an underserved population with few opportunities to create, enjoy and appreciate art. The primary industries in the county are forestry and tourism. As one of only two museums in the county, the Forest Heritage Center seeks to educate and inspire its largely urban visitors about the basics of healthy forests and forest management.
The Forest Heritage Center provides local residents with access to free, high-quality exhibits, events, and festivals. Students from around the region benefit from tours, educational activities, classes, and day camps. Without the museum, many area residents would have no exposure to the area’s rich history, culture, and art. Many residents of southeast Oklahoma have historical family ties to the predominant timber industry and the museum works to educate and instill pride in those residents about their families’ contributions since the early 1900’s as loggers, sawmill operators and tree farmers. The museum keeps that heritage vibrant for the community. Because of its location, the Forest Heritage Center has an expanded community of tourists who visit the area, creating opportunities to educate a wider audience about the history of forestry. The museum hosts approximately 150,000 visitors annually, mostly from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana, but also from across the nation and globe, creating unique opportunities to plan events, exhibits and workshops to coincide with the influx of tourists. In addition to expanding its educational outreach, the museum also contributes to the area’s need for interesting tourist attractions and results in boosting the local economy. Forest Heritage Center audiences include school groups, young adults, senior citizens, and families. The museum strives to reach diverse audiences within the community. Because of our location within the Choctaw Nation, we often work in cooperation with the Nation and invite Native American artists to showcase their heritage. The museum also enjoys repeat visits from minority groups and disabled youth, including wheelchair bound and sight and hearing-impaired students to the exhibits. Forest Heritage Center staff plan for and work with each group to best suit their needs and interests with specialized gallery tours.
The Forest Heritage Center has been a community anchor in Southeast Oklahoma for over 40 years. It was built by a group of businessmen with a vision of sharing the past, present, and future of the forest. Today we are continuing the mission of the founders by educating the public through programs, special events, gallery exhibits, and telling of the positive impact of the forest and its products on our daily lives. Situated in a part of the state where opportunities to experience art and culture are few and far between, we are the Wood Art Capital of Oklahoma and the ever-important first impression to Beavers Bend State Park.
The artist who created the iconic dioramas in the Forest Heritage Center is Harry Rossoll, a creator of Smokey Bear. Rossoll went to work for the US Forest Service in the 1930s and quickly put his artistic talents to work by making signs. When the need arose to bring awareness to the threat of wildfire, Rossoll was part of a team who came up with the concept of Smokey Bear. Smokey’s “Only You” campaign helped individuals understand the responsibility of wildfire prevention and has helped to reduce accidental wildfire outbreak for more than 75 years.
The anchor of the Forest Heritage Center is a series of 14 dioramas which tell the story of the forest from prehistory to the future of forestry. We often hear stories from guests who watched as artist Harry Rossoll installed the large paintings which provided the background and placed carefully chosen artifacts to bring the story into the foreground. As visitors explore the museum with a self-guided tour, they can choose to listen to an audio interpretation, narrated by Broken Bow native Bob Burke.
The People of the Forest exhibit is an award-winning gallery of photographs which feature some of the individuals who shaped the landscape and people of Southeast Oklahoma. The Civilian Conservation Corps, Traveling Timber Towns, and the early days of the forest industry are featured in this exhibit.
Old Hochatown Hochatown, a community that only exists as a site under Broken Bow Lake, was settled in the 1850’s by a group of Choctaws who had just arrived from the Trail of Tears. The community was named on behalf of one of the Choctaw settlers named Hocha.
In 1894, a post office was established at Hochatown and operated until early 1964 when the building of the lake forced abandonment of the settlement. Arnold C. Kincaid, the last postmaster, served in that facility for over 41 years. At the peak of its operations, the Hochatown post office served 175 families, mostly farmers, ranchers and timber workers who lived along the Mountain Fork River and in the nearby mountains.
The post office collection was donated to the Forest Heritage Center by the Burke family, which includes the late Eugene Burke, his wife Lois Kincaid-Burke and their son Bob Burke. Several stories came along with the donation of the post office including the time that the post office was robbed. Eugene just happened to be present as the burglar took the post office hostage. The burglar made Eugene lay on the floor as he robbed the building. Other stories speak about the old-times and the way of life back then.
The historical preservation of the old Hochatown post office resembles a time that once existed and is now passed down through stories and memories of forest workers and families from centuries ag