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Named after a small town situated near its banks in Oklahoma, Copan Lake was completed in 1983. Flood control, water supply, water quality control, recreation and fish and wildlife enhancement were the five main goals of its construction. The US Army Corps of Engineers, which spearheaded the project, established the dam on Washington County's Little Caney River, a small river great for stream fishing in the spring.
Although all 4,850 acres of Copan Lake are located entirely in Oklahoma's Green Country, its surrounding lands cross the border into Kansas. Of the 11,000 acres of land the Corps has set aside for wildlife management, 2,360 acres are co-managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. The remaining lands are cared for cooperatively between the Corps and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
The land surrounding Copan Lake is a mixture of habitats. There are croplands of wheat, soybeans, milo, corn, millet and sudan. Some of these lands are irrigated by water from wetland areas. Cattle grazing and prescribed fire, essential for the prairie plains ecosystem in this northeast part of Oklahoma, are other dominant features of Copan's lands. The project landing is open for public hunting and supports deer, waterfowl, bobwhite quail, turkey, cottontail rabbit and squirrel.
Copan Reservoir itself is habitat to various species of fish. Largemouth bass, white crappie, channel catfish, flathead catfish, sunfish and even hybrid bass hide in artificial fish shelters and large areas of uncleared land in the water. Birdwatchers will be delighted with the variety of bird species that appear on and around Copan Lake. Migrating sparrows, warblers, and ducks, the brown thrasher, wild turkey and owl, herons, woodpeckers, and hawks are just a few of the birds you will have the pleasure of viewing. Bald eagles also come to Lake Copan for the winter looking for food. There are several recreation areas on the lake with various amenities including fishing points, picnic sites, campgrounds, boat ramps, restrooms, dump stations and more.
After a day or two of watching or hunting wildlife, you might want to venture out of the engulfing grasses and explore the towns. The Tom Mix Museum in Dewey, eight miles from Copan Lake, presents a window into the life of the famous cowboy star. Another 10 miles south will put you at the Frank Phillips Home, a mansion settled by a successful oilman entrepreneur. The home is property of the Oklahoma Historical Society and preserves in intriguing display that details the possessions and fascinating lives of the Phillips.
Fourteen miles further south, you will find the Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve, the 3,700-acre personal retreat of Frank Phillips. The land is a sanctuary for a variety of animals including bison, elk, llamas and even ostriches. The Museum has an array of exhibits including one of Native American culture, of which Phillips was fond, a notable Colt gun collection and pieces of fine art. For an evening of entertainment, look up the Bartlesville Civic Ballet or Bartlesville Symphony Orchestra for performances or fill a growling stomach with a diversity of menu choices.
There are many ways to complement your Copan Lake visit. But perhaps all you will need is an easy day on Copan's waters surrounded by nothing but nature's serenity and the respiting sounds of bird calls.
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