Red Rock Canyon.

When people who live around here hear these words, the images come quickly. A place of beauty, history and memories known by virtually all people of Oklahoma —and a place that the public may have lost had it not been for the city of Hinton.

Since the mid-20th century, generations of people have been visiting the Hinton park for camping, hiking, fishing and rappelling adventures, and much more. It’s very important to Oklahomans, so much so that it was quite a scare when the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation recommended the closure of the park in 2017. 

The park was originally operated by the state. But the cost of operating it was higher than the budget would allow.

Revenue generated by the park in 2017 was $140,000, significantly less than the $300,000 it cost to operate it.

To the rescue came the city of Hinton. The community made a deal with the state and has opted for a management company known as Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park, LLC, to oversee operations.  

“It would have been detrimental to everybody if we had allowed it to be shut town,” said Matthew Mears, Hinton city administrator. “It also would have been bad for our sales tax. We are glad the people in the company stepped up, and we’re glad that the park will continue on in this manner.”

If passion is required to make Red Rock Canyon a success, the odds are on Hinton’s side.

“My parents always loved this park, and so have my kids,” said Rick Thiel, president of Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park LLC. “We know how much it means to people, and we don’t want it to ever close. We stepped up to the table and decided we would manage the park and keep it open to the public.”

A contract was signed in September in which the state leased the park to Hinton. Though the state still owns Red Rock, the management company had to go through the city of Hinton in order to become the primary operator of the park.

“The city is an avenue between Red Rock LLC and the state,” said Mears.

“The state would have only leased it to a city, a county or a tribal entity. Since the state could not lease it directly to an individual, it was leased to Hinton so that we could lease it to the company.”

The company now in charge of park operations was created only two months ago. In essence, the members of the company and the city of Hinton are all working together to help save one of Oklahoma’s natural treasures.

“Our company was formed solely to keep the park from closing,” said Thiel. “It’s because of the love and the passion we have for it.”

Red Rock is technically no longer a state park. On Nov. 1, in the hands of Red Rock LLC, the name of the park was officially changed to Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park.

“A lot of people are asking if we are going to start charging admission,” said Thiel. “While it will still cost to camp out, we are not going to take away anything with the activities or charge people to drive through it.”

Thiel said some things will be added to the park to help attract more visitors. A zip line is planned as well as food concessions and a retail store. The plan is to raise more revenue. The company will also improve upon the bathrooms and the playgrounds. 

The area has a rich history. Members of the Cheyenne Tribe once used the canyon for refuge from the harsh winters. Sheltering trees and fresh water were in abundance, just as they are today. In the mid-19th century, gold-seeking settlers used the area as a camping ground, and ruts from their wagon wheels are still visible.

In 1956, the land belonged to three entities — the Kiwanis Club, the city of Hinton and a private landowner. It was leased to the state of Oklahoma so that it could be preserved as a state park. Over the years, the park has been visited by tourists from around the world.

The park’s significance isn't only limited to tourism and historical events. It also has geological and botanical value. The sandstone rock of the canyon is from the Permian age, a period of geological time over 250 million years old, just before the rise of the dinosaurs. The area is also home to a species of maple tree know as the Caddo maple, a plant loved by many for its strikingly bright orange leaves during the fall months. When placed against the backdrop of a setting sun, the colors of sky and tree are nearly indistinguishable.

Red Rock offers up a host of activities for tourists, including hiking trails, fishing, a summer swimming pool, and more than 100 RV hookups.

Visitors often bring their own rappelling gear and scale the red walls of stone, while families may prefer to rest within the park and absorb the beauty of nature. 

Those associated with Red Rock LLC plan to keep it that way.