Jason Salsman/Multimedia Producer
Boardwalk trail shares historic land, pays respect to Cussetah name
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — While the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge is one of only a few quickly vanishing bottomland hardwood forests left in Oklahoma, it is the only one that pays homage to the Mvskoke heritage of its location.
DFNWR, established in 1993, is one of 550 national wildlife refuges in the United States administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Located just outside the Muscogee (Creek) Nation capital city of Okmulgee, the refuge sits along around 30 miles of the Deep Fork River and contains countless species of vegetation and wildlife.
The refuge also boasts two trails, one of which is the Cussetah Bottoms Boardwalk Trail. The trail’s name is a nod to the Mvskoke roots of the land it runs through.
“It was named after the people with the last name of Cussetah,” said Michael Hames, who built the trail and is head of maintenance at the DFNWR headquarters. “Where they are buried at is just to the west of us.”
Hames and another gentleman began construction from the ground up in 2001 and finished it in 2002. It is an elevated boardwalk that sits five feet off the ground and is roughly 1300 feet long. There are plans to add on around another 1,000 feet to the trail.
As Hames said, ancestors of the Cussetah family are buried in a cemetery just west of the headquarters that borders near the trail. He mentioned the care and respect that the refuge worked with when establishing the cemetery’s area.
“It was clearly marked, what we actually ended up doing was putting a new fence around the cemetery,” said Hames.
The fence that was put up expanded the land space dedicated to the burial ground and also served as an extra precautionary measure.
Hames was unaware of the fact that the MCN has a cemetery program under the Historic and Cultural Preservation Department. He was delighted to hear it because of the opportunity to work together for some much needed maintenance.
The cemetery is overgrown with brush. There are headstones damaged and hardly visible, and a need for educational tools on the history of the area and family.
“We need to get in contact with somebody out there to come over and look at the cemetery,” he said. “People come over to walk the boardwalk trail and don’t understand the history in this area. It would be nice if Creek Nation put some signs up as far as the history of the people here.”
To visit the trail located just adjacent to the headquarters, travel on Hwy. 75 south from Okmulgee, approximately six miles to Lavendar Road. Turn left onto Lavendar Road and follow it until it dead ends (about two miles). Turn left and follow 250 Road approximately two miles. The refuge headquarters and parking area is located on your right.