Women in Charge
The workforce in the United States is large, and finding where you fit in often is challenging. For women, it might seem daunting at first, but in recent years, the number of women in the workforce has grown and continues to increase tenfold. At Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority, we are happy to employ a vast number of women and are proud to have many women as managers in various departments. However, three businesses under the CIEDA umbrella have women as general managers: Creek Convenience Store Atmore, Creek Travel Plaza and Muskogee Inn. At Creek Convenience Store Atmore, Susie McCann runs the everyday operations and oversees 12 full-time employees. McCann is also a Tribal Member and has been at CCSA for about 12 years. Creek Travel Plaza actually has two female managers. General Manager Tammy Smith is over the entire truck stop, which has 49 employees, but Diner Manager Candy Stuckey oversees the restaurant portion of the business. Stuckey has 26 employees under her management. General Manager of Muskogee Inn Rochel Martin is the spouse of a Tribal Member and has been running the hotel for eight years. She has been with the hotel for 11.5 years and cares for 22 employees. Assistant Manager Angel Caraway is a Tribal Member and has been at Muskogee Inn for 18 years. “We are very proud to have such high level managers be women in our businesses and to be role models for others who aspire to be in leadership roles,” Director of Retail Operations Leo Hammons said. “CIEDA and its businesses are nondiscriminatory enterprises and our diverse employment record reflects that. First and foremost, we want to employ our own Tribal Members, and with operations continuing to grow, we have many opportunities for Tribal Members right here at our enterprises.” To see a list of jobs and to apply, go to ciejobs.com.
CIEDA Social Media
We live in a technology, digital era. Practically everything you do is online or mobile these days. From paying bills and purchasing items to getting news information, sports alerts and funny memes, our lives are consumed with constant dings and sounds coming from our mobile devices.
Social media plays a huge roll in how a majority of people live their lives. A plethora of avenues exist in which consumers can get information — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Reddit, Google+ — the list is endless. The 24/7 news cycle doesn’t stop. That’s why it is important for businesses to be on social media and engage with their customers.
Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA) and its enterprises are on various social media platforms. Each business has its own Facebook page:
Four enterprises have Twitter accounts:
CIEDA is on Pinterest and has boards representing each of its enterprises: https://www.pinterest.com/pcicieda/. CIEDA and Muskogee Technology are on Instagram, and CIEDA also manages the Social Atmore Instagram page, where it promotes city and Tribal events and businesses. The Instagram accounts can be found here, as well as searching for the name after the @ symbol:
CIEDA uses Tumblr to promote the enterprises as well: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/pcicieda.
In addition to all these social media platforms, each business also utilizes a blog. Blogs keep Tribal Members and the public informed about what’s going on in the industries we serve. Some blogs give tips on certain things, such as ways to save money if you are traveling on a budget (Muskogee Inn) or horseback riding safety tips (Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve). You can read and follow the blogs on each business’ respective websites. CIEDA, Perdido River Farms, Creek Convenience Store Atmore and Creek Convenience Store Wetumpka have blogs hosted on CIEDA’s main website: http://www.creekindianenterprises.org/westminster/blogs.html.
Creek Travel Plaza, Muskogee Inn and Muskogee Technology have a news blog page on the main CIEDA site, but each of these businesses host a blog on its own website as well. CIEDA also maintains a “catch all” blog site on blogspot.
So as you can see, social media is an important and vital part of CIEDA’s strategy to grow and maintain its businesses. Tribal Members can stay up to date just by following or “liking” a page. Comment on our posts, share a photo and create chatter. Re-pin some of our Pinterest items. Get involved with your Tribal entities on social media and in person. We are doing great things, and we want you to know about them.
For easy access to the above hyperlinked sites, you can find clickable links in this same article on CIEDA’s blog page (http://tinyurl.com/o36gh2n) so you aren’t having to type in long addresses on your mobile devices. Scan the QR code to be taken directly there.
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
Owa: Destination Foley
And soon, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians — working through its economic development branch, Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA) — and the City of Foley will introduce a new entertainment destination that not only will benefit local and nearby residents but also the entire country.
Foley Holdings has been created by CIEDA to establish a multi-million-dollar development that will put Foley, Ala., on the map as a vacation destination and attract tourists from around the country looking to experience a little Southern charm.
“From the beginning, we knew we wanted to be a part of something big in Baldwin County,” Martin said. "When the City of Foley approached us in 2012, the original initiative was a joint venture on sports tourism. The economy in Baldwin County was hit hard after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but sports tourism was the only sector not affected. After a few discussions, it also came to light that many things were lacking for those tourists who come for sports tournaments, such as retail, dining and entertainment options close to the venue.
“That’s when we saw the continued value of this development and said we're going to get fully involved and take it to a higher level by creating a mega sports and entertainment destination.”
In conjunction with the integration of the sports fields and event center planned by the City of Foley, CIEDA’s concept for the project is to create a family-friendly retail, dining and entertainment destination, targeting individuals of all ages. It is anticipated the destination will attract visitors from a 400-mile driving radius who will choose to stay either overnight or plan a day trip.
The development sits on more than 400+ acres at the intersection of the Foley Beach Express and Baldwin County Road 20. The Tribe originally only provided the financial backing for the project, but the opportunity arose to take control of the entertainment piece of the project. The City of Foley retains sole ownership of the sports complex.
Martin describes the project as spectacular, reiterating that the Tribe knows the value in producing top-quality developments.
“Look at what we’ve done in the past,” Martin said. “It will be that level of quality.”
Tourism and entertainment growth is positive
Proving the existing tourism market was viable was very easy. Numbers don’t lie. In the past year alone, Foley/Gulf Shores visitor spending reached $3.5 billion. Multiple feasibility studies performed for the Tribe by nationally known firms show the average visitor to the area has a high income and will spend accordingly.
Despite the oil spill initially affecting vacationers coming the beaches on the Gulf Coast, Alabama gained national and international attention as the place to vacation. However, even though tourism numbers continue to grow exponentially, the retail, dining and entertainment (RDE) opportunities for this region has not. The Foley/Gulf Shores area is currently an underserved market for family entertainment when compared to similar destinations, such as Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; Destin, Fla.; and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
CIEDA sought out six nationally recognized research firms and had each one conduct an independent study of the market. All six returned the same results: 6.1 million people visit the Foley/Gulf Shores area every year and that number is projected to continue to grow.
Based on the positive results, CIEDA was convinced and began to swiftly move to capitalize on getting the development started, beginning with a master plan design for the entire 400+ acre campus that would fully integrate the City's sports assets.
Maintaining the Poarch Creek standards
Because the Tribe has a history of developing high quality properties, CIEDA took every precaution with designing the layout and land-use possibilities. This involved working with many people to ensure a high-quality resort would be built. City and state officials were consulted and a public-private partnership was formed as a commitment to get the project incentives up and running.
The State of Alabama has provided funds for constructing roadways and widening existing ones for traffic to flow effortlessly. Foley Beach Expressway was completed as part of phase 1. It was expected the roadway would carry 8,000 to 9,000 cars per day, but current estimates show traffic is already reaching 12,000 cars per day.
“Once we realized the demands in our existing tourism market, along with the need for superior design plans to attract these visitors, a more refined retail, dining and entertainment plan was required,” CIEDA Greg Rawls said. Therefore, CIEDA brought in additional firms to evaluate, study and validate a resort level destination. These firms have worldwide experience, most notably Walt Disney World, Gaylord Entertainment, and Six Flags, and returned the same data to confirm the concept for a 180,000 square foot space for retail, dining and entertainment.
“Through the feasibility studies, all consultants agreed visitors to the area are drawn here for specific reasons — to experience the beauty and culture of our area,” said Kristin Roberson, marketing and PR rep for Foley Holdings. “As a result, Foley Holdings will continue to hit the mark on these known consumer desires, making it a financially viable investment for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.”
Fast track to the future
In order to capitalize on the market, CIEDA and the City of Foley hit the ground running in 2015. The development was broken down into three phases:
- Phase 1: Completely funded and underway, with some parts already finished and operating. This phase laid the groundwork for the project. It calls for 16 outdoor sports fields (open and tournaments are being played now, funded by the City of Foley), a 90,000 sq ft indoor events center (construction underway, funded by the city), a 150-room Marriott TownePlace Suites hotel (construction underway, funded by Foley Holdings) and road expansions (completed by the state, with a connector to I-10 and a newly built four-lane highway through the property that connects to Highway 59).
- Phase 2: This phase is the heart of the master plan and the current phase CIEDA has begun. Foley Holdings will construct 180,000 square feet of RDE space centered around a 14-acre lake. A 14-acre themed amusement park is being put together and will play a key part in fulfilling the entertainment needs of regional visitors. It will include 20 custom designed rides ranging from a major rollercoaster and high thrill teen rides to kiddie rides for small children. Additional roadways will be constructed to accommodate the anticipated foot traffic and flow of guests. This will be completed by May 2017. A downtown district and warehouse district will be built within the RDE space and will provide guests with a small-town, Southern-charm feel. The entire RDE section will be fully constructed by winter 2017.
- Phase 3: This phase is for future expansions based on the current visitor demographics. It includes a 200+ space RV park, indoor and outdoor waterpark with a hotel and expansion of the existing theme park. The entire development, with all three phases, is a five-year plan, based on market statistics for future growth and tourism in the Foley/Gulf Shores area.
Putting South Alabama on the map
The beaches of South Alabama are the main draw for most vacationers to the area. Although the beach brings in a vast of economic boom, there are very few other options to entice guests to spend time and money in the area.
Tanger Outlets is also a huge draw for local and regional visitors. But again, the closest waterpark or theme park is Waterville USA in Gulf Shores and The Track in Destin, Fla. Therefore, the Foley Holdings resort development will be the only entertainment park of its size in the region, which further validates that this project will be successful. Guests will easily be able to recognize the elevated family entertainment experience as a result of the sheer volume of rides and quality of options offered. Feasibility studies show the development will be affordable and in current ranges of competition sites, such as Pigeon Forge or Six Flags.
“This development was thoughtfully and carefully planned,” CIEDA Chief Financial Officer Chad Klinck said. “It is not intended to compete with the beaches for tourism but actually to complement that market. We aren’t trying to get people from going to the beach. We are trying to include a range of options for people who spend a good amount of time down here. Right now, people come to the beach and travel elsewhere for entertainment. We want them to stay locally in the region to occupy their time and keep them busy.
“When you look at places like Myrtle Beach or Destin, the people who go to these vacation spots are looking for more than just laying out on the beach all day, every day,” he said. “They want good food, good shopping and good entertainment, to go along with a good few days at the beach. That’s what we are providing here in Foley.”
The resort also will keep locals local. Visitors considered as “regional locals” include those within a two-hour driving distance.
“These people currently have to drive a considerable distance to experience anything of this magnitude,” Martin said. “We want to be the place people come to from Pensacola, Mobile, Fairhope, Brewton and all points in between. We want to put a big star for South Alabama on the map and provide guests with an experience they’ll love and want to come back to again and again.”
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
Up in Smoke
Creek Convenience Store Atmore (CCSA) and Creek Convenience Store Wetumpka (CCSW) both started off as Creek Smoke Shops. Long before the gas and convenience store concept, Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority operated the two discount tobacco stores, exclusively selling tobacco products.
But like most industries, the economy changed how things were done. And so the move to a full-service convenience store and gas station emerged with the incentive of continuing to sell discount tobacco.
“The majority of our sales still comes from discount tobacco products,” Director of Retail Operations Leo Hammons said.
Tobacco in America dates all the way back to the 1500s, perhaps even later. Native Americans first introduced tobacco, and it was the first crop grown for money trading in the country.
Initially tobacco was used for spiritual and medicinal purposes by Indians and was smoked through a pipe; it wasn’t until later years that it was rolled into cigarettes for smoking. However, Native Americans did not over use the product; tobacco was not recreational and wasn’t smoked every day.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians have continuously capitalized on this industry and continue to profit from it.
Both CCSA and CCSW carry major national brands of cigarettes and tobacco, but the businesses are looking into stocking Native American brands as well. Typically, these brands are less expensive and are popular with the general public as well as Native Americans, and many contain no additives. Being additive free does not make the cigarettes healthier, it just means they are produced naturally without all the extra chemicals used in mainstream tobacco products.
According to online research, Native brand Light cigarettes are the most popular at smoke shops across the country, being compared as the best alternative to the Marlboro brand in terms of taste and price. Smoking Joes brand is the first Native American-owned brand to be fully licensed as a tobacco manufactured in America. And contrary to popular belief, Natural American Spirits brand is not a Native American Indian tobacco product and states on its website it is not affiliated with any tribe. However, its products are “based on our belief in the traditional American Indian usage of tobacco—in moderation and in its natural state.”
To find a list of all brands of cigarettes sold at Creek Convenience Stores, call 251-446-8801 in Atmore and 334-514-2700 in Wetumpka.
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
Being good neighbors
So when another Native American tribe asked for guidance, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PBCI) readily stepped up and assisted, taught and mentored. That is how the partnership between PBCI and the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California developed.
The Washoe Tribe began seeking ways to generate revenue to provide for its people and gain self-sufficiency. After looking at several opportunities with various Indian tribes and researching different business models to follow, their tribe met with our Tribe and began discussing how the Poarch Band of Creek Indians were able to succeed in these areas and how we could help their tribe do the same.
"It wasn't so long ago that we were building our first gaming facility in hopes that it would provide a brighter future for our people,” PBCI Tribal Chair Stephanie Bryan said. “We believe it is part of our obligation, as Indian people, to support others in their efforts to achieve financial security. We are thrilled that we can play a role in making sure that the Washoe Tribe can use its land to better the lives of their tribal members."
As a result, the two tribes joined efforts and through the PBCI’s economic development branch, Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA), the work began on phase one, constructing a travel plaza in Nevada that was mirrored after Creek Travel Plaza here in Atmore. Once that phase of the project was completed, CIEDA and the Washoe Tribe moved on to phase 2 — a gaming facility similar to Wind Creek Entertainment venues.
"Opening a casino and partnering with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians is another step toward the Washoe Tribe's long term goal of economic self-sufficiency," Washoe Tribal Chair Neil Mortimer said. "We are excited about the partnership and pleased to create job opportunities for our tribal members, as well as local residents. The partnership between our tribe and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama is the first of its kind, and we are looking forward to increasing the gaming and dining experience in the Carson Valley area for both residents and visitors."
What this means for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians is yet another successful investment and creates diversification within the gaming industry.
It also encourages our Tribe to continue giving back, not only to other tribes, but to everyone around us.
Vice President of Business Development for Wind Creek Hospitality and a Poarch Creek Tribal Council Member, Arthur Mothershed, said, "Our Tribe knows all too well the challenges faced by the Washoe Tribe. Fortunately in the past 10 years, we have been able to overcome many of those obstacles, and we are both honored and excited to have had the opportunity to share our good fortune and knowledge with the Washoe Tribe as their partners on this vitally important project."
The Wa She Shu Travel Plaza opened in early 2015, and the Wa She Shu Casino opened adjacent to the travel plaza in May 2016. Wa She Shu means “the people’s place” in the Washoe Tribe’s native tongue.
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
History of CIEDA (Part 3)
This is the third installment in a series about the history of Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA).
Slow, steady progress
For the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, economic development isn't a new thing. The Tribe has had a hand in it for decades.
Tribal members have gotten an education and built businesses that improve their quality of life. That, by definition, is the epitome of economic development.
But it's not an easy climb and it doesn't, on average, produce immediate results.
Elder and current Tribal Council Treasurer Eddie Tullis said taking advantage of every sound opportunity is the key of progression.
"You have got to look at the big picture when dealing with economic development," Tullis said. "Not everything will happen right away. But if you are wise about it and do your homework, you will reap the benefits at some point."
One way CIEDA learned that was by going through Harvard University's Honoring Nations program. Harvard created the program in 1998 to showcase what was happening in Indian country. The program sparked a leadership for tribes that were at the point of going beyond gaming. They learned how to move forward.
"Harvard taught us to shift our focus," Tullis said. He points to the various businesses under the CIEDA umbrella already. Every business is now self-sufficient, but each one took time and effort to get there.
Entertainment and hospitality
Creek Travel Plaza (CTP) opened in 2012 and despite not being a nationally known truck stop brand, CTP has done incredibly well for itself. The truck stop sees a regular influx of drivers and travelers who utilize the many amenities on site. Tribal members also take advantage of the eat-in diner at CTP.
Creek Convenience Store Atmore also caters to the Tribal community. But CIEDA's growth doesn't stop there.
What started out as an outside investment in an entertainment district in Foley, Ala., the project formerly known as Blue Collar Country is now 100 percent owned and managed by CIEDA. Plans have been tweaked and construction has started on Phase 1, with Phase 2 already advertising for retail space.
Tullis compared the Foley project to places like Disney World or Six Flags. Those entertainment districts were not hits right off the bat. They started as local venues for the local people to have something to do. They exploded into world-wide sensations because the people involved had the knowledge and foresight to see the potential of a bigger market.
"We are in a unique position; we have an opportunity right now in (the) entertainment (industry). There are many people in this country with disposable income, who live outside our area (the Southeast), who are going to spend that income on entertainment vacations. CIEDA's investment in the Foley project, in my opinion, is going to be phenomenal.
"The way for our people to have more disposable income is to provide a way for those who already have extra funds to give it to us," he said.
Hospitality is another income money maker. CIEDA purchased the Best Western motel, currently Muskogee Inn, as its first investment in economic development in 1986. Many Tribal members were already working at the motel, which had a steady stream of income. The extra capital provided an opportunity to create more jobs for Tribal members, thus giving Tribal members more opportunities to have their own disposable income.
"Gaming and the casinos we have are just a portion of why Poarch Creek people are thriving," Tullis said. "We are thriving because of our many enterprises that are managed by CIEDA. These enterprises, and our future ones, are what our future will depend on, not gaming."
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
History of CIEDA (Part 2)
This is the second installment in a series about the history of Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA).
Leadership forges prosperity
Eddie Tullis was the first chairman of the Board of Directors at CIEDA and was CIEDA’s first president when it was born under Tribal government. He continued as president for a short time when CIEDA was spun off into its own organization.
"I’m a big supporter of diversification," Tullis said. "I’m a big supporter of getting out and competing in the real world so our people understand what happened here at Poarch Creek with our ancestors."
He said CIEDA’s success is a result of having the best people possible to operate the organization and each enterprise to accomplish the end goal: to provide revenue streams for the Tribal people.
"We here at Poarch Creek have done an outstanding job in understanding the complexity of the organization (CIEDA). Economic development is something you have to work at for it to succeed," Tullis said.
Taking the reins after Tullis was Robert McGhee, who currently is Tribal Council Vice Chair.
Current CIEDA President and CEO James T. Martin was in Tribal government when it was created. He then went to work with United South and Eastern Tribes and later came to be the head of CIEDA.
Martin has excelled at bringing CIEDA to self-sufficiency and is spearheading the entertainment project in Foley.
"It’s exciting to see the progression of things for our people," Martin said. "To see where we were a few decades ago to where we are now is amazing. And it says a lot about who we are as a Tribe and as individuals in the community."
Education is key
Tullis emphasized the importance of education for Tribal members as another reason CIEDA strived to be a success.
"We started long ago in stressing education for our people," he said. "Back then, we had very few people who were able to get an education, but today (in recent years), we send all our young people to college and they are beginning to come home and utilize those skills and knowledge to help their own and set up future generations with hope and prosperity. However, you have to be able to provide them with a job when they come back, and that’s where CIEDA comes into play."
Martin reiterated Tullis’ remarks by saying the more diverse the Tribe is in business, the more Tribal members will want to be a part of making the Tribe successful.
"You have to create a path for education then you have to create the opportunities for those who gain knowledge to put their skills to good use and give back to the communities they live in," Martin said.
The Tribe recently has funded a scholarship for students in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The $1 million fund ensures that two scholarships will be awarded each year to one male and one female residing in Alabama or the Panhandle. Selected students are expected to receive up to $6,000 each.
"Being able to help change someone’s quality of life, and in turn raise the profile of a community, makes the education component incredibly important to the tribe," Tribal Chair/CEO Stephanie Bryan said. “It’s important that we look out for the now but really what we as leaders are doing is for the next seven generations," she said.
Look for the third part in this series next month.
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
History of CIEDA (Part 1)
Elders soon began to plan for future generations and paved a path for today's young people to advance and not rely on others to provide a way of living.
Thus, in the mid-1980s, Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA) was born. CIEDA secures the Tribe's future beyond gaming by optimizing returns on funds and natural resources entrusted to them by the Tribal Council. CIEDA empowers talented leaders to focus their energy and build profitable organizations by adding value with our capital and management expertise to high-potential business ventures. This creates opportunities for the Tribe and generates wealth, leaving a lasting legacy.
This is the first part of a series on the history of CIEDA and why the Tribe branched out into economic development.
The boom of economic development
Economies ebb and flow, and each generation has a responsibility to leave legacies for their offspring. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians have been doing this for centuries.
But it wasn't until the '80s that a few Tribal leaders began to consider new ways to live and become successful. There began the movement into diversification for our Tribe.
From 1984 to 1988, the Tribe studied economic development. When the Tribe regained federal recognition, it began to look at ways to further prosper as a people and give back to its neighbors in Alabama and the country as a whole.
Other Indian organizations also started concentrating on economic development.
Tribal Member Mal McGhee was on the board of directors for Tribal Council when investments began to take root. When CIEDA was formed, McGhee was on the board of directors there, too.
"Because I had a background in both government and economic development, I was put on both boards," McGhee said. "The businesses under the organization were the Best Western (now Muskogee Inn), Muskogee Metalworks (now Muskogee Technology), Creek Family Restaurant, Creek Bingo Palace and a couple others."
Going beyond gaming
Many Indian tribes across the country have long operated gaming facilities on tribal lands as a source of income. Through trial and error, some have succeeded, and others have not.
Poarch Creek gaming began with the Creek Bingo Palace on the reservation. Although this was highly profitable, government leaders looked at future sustainability and began to explore other business areas. But with that came a learning curve.
"Gaming blossomed around Indian country and those of us on the national scene realized not only the challenge to sustain that industry, but how to use that resource to try to create a continuity of income for the Tribe," current Tribal Council Treasurer Eddie Tullis said. "Certain people early on realized the value of keeping government and economic development separate but balanced."
McGhee, Tullis and other leaders were able to attend an economic conference at Harvard University, where they were taught to follow a structure to have the businesses be separated from government completely.
"Indian tribes are unique in that we are a sovereign government," Tullis said. "Here at Poarch Creek, we understood that as a Tribe, we couldn't successfully run a government and do economic development in tandem. So we created Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority as our economic branch. We then appointed Tribal leaders who understood the economic industry to diversify our portfolio. By separating government from economic development, we got ahead of the curve and began to learn how to sustain and provide service to our people.
"Gaming gave us a financial entity that was totally outside the realm of economics," he said. With gaming, the Tribe really has no competition in the market. But with each enterprise, competitors are everywhere. Looking at all economic factors is important when considering certain industries. Price gaps, fluctuating profits and costs all decide how well an industry does at any given time.
"We knew we didn’t want to rely on the luxury of gaming forever, so we chose our ventures wisely and it's paid off."
Look for part two in this series next month.
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
Just A Tank Away
Road trip season is here, and if you're on a budget, you might not want to go very far. Check out these places that are within driving distance of CCSA and CCSW. The top leisure travel activities for U.S. domestic travelers are (1) visiting relatives, (2) shopping, (3) visiting friends, (4) fine dining and (5) beaches. So pack your bags and hit the road!
1. Wetumpka, Montgomery, Ala.
There are lots of things to do in Montgomery and Wetumpka. Check out a museum or two, stroll along the Tallapoosa River or try your luck at the one of the casinos. Maybe see a concert or two. The possibilities are endless.
2. Foley, Ala.
The City of Foley draws thousands to its Tanger Outlets mall every day. Eat at Lamberts Restaurant, "home of the throwed rolls." And it won't be too long before the entertainment district and sports complex opens.
3. Mobile, Ala.
Catch a Bay Bears baseball game tour the battleship or experience Mardi Gras in its birthplace city of Mobile.
4. Pensacola, Fla.
Historic downtown Pensacola has a wealth of education to offer. In America's first settlement, plenty of entertainment and food options are available. And minor league baseball, too, with the Blue Wahoos, the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.
5. Panama City, Fla.
Panama City and Panama City Beach offer more than just spring break parties. Upscale shopping centers and remodeled theaters provide a plethora of entertainment for all ages.
6. Fort Walton Beach and Destin, Fla.
On the beautiful Emerald Coast sits a pair of cities known as family destinations and tourist attractions. See dolphins perform tricks at the Gulfarium and stay at the Holiday Inn Resort to be close to everything. Destin Commons offers upscale shopping and restaurants.
7. Atlanta, Ga.
Home of the Atlanta Braves, this city and the surrounding areas are like a world of their own. Visit the Coca Cola museum, ESPN, the science museum and so much more.
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
Driven by Success
That is the case with Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA) and its economic investment in The Westin Lake Mary, Orlando North hotel.
Opening in November 2009, the hotel became fully operational in 2010. CIEDA’s involvement began in 2014 when visiting another investment venture in Huntsville, Ala. CIEDA representatives were approached by the Yedla Management Co., and talks initiated on how CIEDA could be brought on board for the new partnership.
Yedla Management Co. covers day-to-day operations at The Westin, and Yedla’s President and CEO, Srinath Yedla, said he wanted CIEDA to take charge and make the development prosperous.
"We had developed the hotel for another partner but after a while, it was apparent that we needed someone like CIEDA to step in and turn it around," Yedla said. "That’s when we got CIEDA and the Tribe involved. We knew they had tremendous success in the hospitality industry, and they have what it takes to make a lucrative investment work."
Executive Vice President of Yedla Management, Michael Amaral, stated "with CIEDA’s participation, we were able to achieve the levels of service and quality expected from a Westin Hotel. Within the first 18 months, the revenues and profits, generated from hotel operations, increased significantly and exceeded expectations. Further, as of December 2015, overall occupancy at The Westin at Lake Mary was up 6.2 percent over the competition’s 4.5 percent for the year.
"Our average daily rate, $110.68, exceeded our competition’s rate of $109.42," Amaral said. "We attribute this success because of our partnership with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians."
In its latest report, Smith Travel Research indicated that hotels reporting in the Orlando North area were achieving an occupancy of 67.7 percent while the Westin achieved a 72.9 percent occupancy for the same period.
As a final note, Amaral said he was pleased with the operating team assembled at the hotel, and that in 2015, the hotel was named No. 1 in Orlando by Orlando Magazine and the sales team was awarded the honor of "Sale Team of the Year 2015" for Seminole County.
To further help the hotel stand out, when Seminole County rebranded its name to "Orlando North," The Westin added the branding to its name.
The Westin Lake Mary, Orlando North features 253 guest rooms and suites. Westin’s signature Heavenly Bed and Heavenly Shower, Shula’s 347 Grill, a 24-hour fitness center and a lobby bar are among the vast amenities offered at the property.
The Westin features 14,000 square feet of meeting and event space that can accommodate up to 750 guests, and the 7,700-square-foot ballroom can be divided into five sections, ideal for weddings, special events and banquets.
Yedla said he is pleased with the rate of the hotel’s success and its potential to grow even more.
"When you get a 20 percent profit margin within the first five years, I’d say that is pretty successful," he said. "CIEDA already has seen 11.15 percent on what is called an internal rate of return (IRR). The IRR measures the profitability of potential investments; it’s a cash-on-cash revenue over several years. The higher a project's internal rate of return, the more desirable an investor is to undertake the project. We believe this investment will continue to grow for years to come."
CIEDA President and CEO James T. Martin echoed Yedla’s statement.
"We were honored to be considered as an investor for this project," Martin said. "We carefully considered the potential of the hotel to succeed under our management and having worked with Mr. Yedla in the past, we knew this partnership when be beneficial to all involved."
Martin said the hospitality industry was a lucrative one to be in.
"We as a Tribe are driven to succeed. We invest in economic developments wisely, and I believe The Westin property was a home run."
CIEDA has additional hotel investments in Huntsville, Ala.; Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; and Pensacola, Fla.
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
Q & A with the BIA
The Division of Capital Investment (DCI), from the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development (IEED), Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs (ASIA), recently held a conference at the Poarch Band of Creek Indians reservation. Representatives from DCI also were treated to a tour of the reservation by Muskogee Technology's Director of Marketing, Mal McGhee, and a presentation given by Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority President/CEO James T. Martin.
Martin explained how PBCI has used economic development to further diversity from the gaming industry and how the Tribe utilizes its businesses. The group visited the Cultural Museum as well as tribal housing and government, ball fields and recreation areas on the reservation, Judson Cemetery and other businesses managed by Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is the oldest bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Established in 1824, IA provides services — directly or through contracts, grants or compacts — to almost 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has received benefits from the BIA in many areas: when the Tribe purchased the Best Western hotel in 1988 and renamed it Muskogee Inn, BIA stepped in to help with funds and support. Roads, bridges and infrastructure on the reservation also were built and maintained through the BIA.
The difference with our Tribe is that we are a self-governing Tribe and do not let the U.S. government dictate where their support goes. The BIA provides grants for certain areas, such as health, education, economic development, etc., but the Poarch Band of Creek Indians uses those resources how it sees fit. Other tribes rely on the BIA for guidance, whereas PBCI does not.
The following is a question and answer session with a few of DCI's representatives:
Q: What is your main focus as an organization on behalf of Indian tribes?
A: David Johnson — We make sure tribes have the same economic development opportunities as everyone else. In our DCI office, we manage the Indian Loan Guaranty, Insurance and Interest Subsidy Program, which breaks through the conventional barriers to financing for tribes and individual Indians. The loan program helps facilitate loan financing for borrowers that would not be able to do so otherwise. The division helps secure reasonable interest rates and reduces risks for all parties involved. We bring lenders and borrowers together so that all may prosper.
Q: What are the most utilized programs under IA and how do they help tribes?
A: David Johnson — I would say our loan guarantee program is one of our best resources we offer. We also have various offices that help tribes with everything from computer problems to business development and planning, budgets, accounting and so forth.
Q: What is the IEED's role in the government-to-government relationship with the United States?
A: James West — The Division of Capital Investment is working hard to provide opportunities for economic development through the Insurance and Loan Guarantee program.
Michael Luger — Our responsibility is making sure tribes have access to capital. We protect their rights and improve their quality of life. We provide funding, support and training, land management opportunities for their trust land and even build roads, bridges and infrastructure to better help maintain tribal communities.
Q: What are the challenges you face as a government entity?
A: Cheryl King — I think the biggest frustration is getting people educated and informed about what is available to them. Many tribal communities don't realize that we are here to help and that no question or idea is too small for us to administer help in getting to the end result.
"While in my role as Former USET (United South and Eastern Tribes) Director, I saw firsthand how IEED has stimulated economic development in Indian country through its guaranteed loan program," Martin said. "They play a vital role in spring boarding Native American entrepreneurship across the country."
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
From start to finish
With the opening of Wind Creek Montgomery (WCM) this month, and the ending of another year, now is a good time to look back at the construction history of the Tribe, as managed by Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA).
Since the mid-2000s, a plethora of major construction projects have taken place under the guidance and leadership of the CIEDA construction management team.
Following extensive renovations at Creek Casino Montgomery in recent years, the decision to add a hotel and entertainment venue to the property, to mimic Wind Creek Atmore and Wetumpka locations, was a no-brainer.
The concept began with totally demolishing parking lots and buildings and completely redesigning the landscape of the area near the Tallapoosa River, which has ultimately led to the Tribe's latest endeavor at WCM.
Here we will highlight various projects that, throughout the years, have made the Poarch Band of Creek Indians one of the most recognizable names in the state of Alabama and across the country.
Wind Creek Atmore
The idea of Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore, Ala., (WCA) was conceived in 2007, and the $245 million project was completed and open in January 2009. CIEDA Construction Manager Jim Angus said the project created more than 350 construction jobs.
"We are spending more on the finer details to make this a nicer hotel and resort (to distinguish from neighboring Mississippi gaming facilities)," Angus said at the time.
Since the opening, there have been major renovations of the facility, including complete remodels of The Fire restaurant, The Sound venue, The Grill, The Center Bar, adding stationary seating to the amphitheater and installing sliding glass doors at all entryways, all overseen by Tribal Member and Project Manager Kevin Rackard.
The addition of the Cultural Kiosk in the foyer was completed in mid-2015 to showcase archival photos and Poarch Creek artisan jewelry. Wall videos play on both sides of the display, flanked by murals depicting Indian history.
Creek Convenience Store Atmore
In conjunction with the opening of WCA, Creek Smoke Shop finished construction and opened Labor Day 2009. The smoke shop previously was housed in a mobile trailer and sold only discount tobacco products. Once the new facility was built, it was rebranded in 2014 to its new name, Creek Convenience Store Atmore, to reflect its expanded product offerings and now is a full-service convenience store and gas station.
Creek Entertainment Gretna
Next up for the construction management team was a new venture into Florida. Creek Entertainment Gretna opened in December 2011 as a horse racing and a poker room venue.
Gretna City Manager Antonio Jefferson said the $20 million development provided 180 jobs, a boom for the rural community in North Florida.
Creek Travel Plaza
And CIEDA construction didn't stop there. Less than a year later, Creek Travel Plaza (CTP) opened in September 2012. The full-service truck stop was built directly off Interstate 65 at exit 54, catering to truck drivers who come through the area on a regular basis and need a layover stay to rest between deliveries.
CTP features big showers, laundry facilities, a sit-down 1950s-style diner, fast-food chicken by Chesters, a full convenience store and truckers lounge. Many Tribal Members gather to eat and socialize at the diner, making CTP a frequented Tribally owned business serving the Tribal community, truck drivers and vacationers.
Entertainment Center at WCA
The Entertainment Center at Wind Creek Atmore was completed in October 2013. In 2012, a feasibility study was conducted and design planning followed. The study identified areas of entertainment that locals were traveling to neighboring counties/cities to participate in.
"We built the entertainment center so local people would be spending their money here, instead of going to the surrounding towns that offered things like a big movie theater, a bowling alley, arcade rooms, a spa," CIEDA President and CEO Tim Martin said. "We realized not everyone wants to use the gaming machines, so we identified areas of entertainment that locals would enjoy and would come back to again and again."
Wind Creek Wetumpka
The year 2014 was an explosive time for construction at CIEDA. At the same time as the entertainment center planning in Atmore, the CIEDA management team was hard at work 138 miles north in Wetumpka, Ala., building the Tribe's second resort-style casino and hotel, Wind Creek Wetumpka. WCW opened in January 2014.
Buford L. Rolin Health Clinic and Lavan Martin Assisted Living Facility
The Tribe always takes care of its own. The need to provide expanded health services for Tribal Members and honor Tribal elders sparked the construction of a health clinic and full-service assisted living facility on the reservation.
In March 2014, the $15 million combined projects opened. The assisted living facility serves all elders and houses the SAIL center. The architectural concept was inspired by elements found in nature and showcases Creek heritage through archival photos and displays Poarch Creek Indian art.
Creek Convenience Store Wetumpka
Construction was happening simultaneously to create what would become Creek Convenience Store Wetumpka (CCSW).
Not to be outdone by its counterpart in Atmore, Riverside Smoke Shop moved from its mobile trailer location in June 2014 to the new facility across from WCW and was rebranded into CCSW. Just like the Atmore location, CCSW is a full-service convenience store and gas station and continues to sell discount tobacco products, along with Indian culture items, such as dolls, purses and other souvenir items.
Wind Creek Montgomery
The latest addition to the gaming facilities is in Montgomery, Ala., where this month, Creek Casino Montgomery will change names and open in the newly constructed, $65 million project — Wind Creek Montgomery Hotel and B.B. King's Blues Club.
"We are ahead of schedule with this project," Angus said. "Construction began in November 2014; we were slated to open in 2016 but now will open this month."
The expansion and renovations of Creek Casino Montgomery began in 2011 and was done in phases, beginning with a 50,000 square foot, $25 million facility; then another 30,000 square foot, $12 million facility; along with new parking lots, landscaping and interior renovations to the existing facility.
"Everything you see on that property is new — from the ground up," Angus said.
Honoring Poarch Creek culture and history
The CIEDA construction management team works with various design teams to incorporate Creek Indian heritage by featuring culturally significant aspects in its architecture. The stone materials and colors used in the buildings represent the Tribe’s connection to nature. Historical photos honor the Tribal culture and long road to federal recognition. Even details like the curved design on top of the casinos are strategically integrated to encompass Creek culture.
"We are a humble people," Martin said. "We give back to those who gave to us, and we respect nature, our Creator and where we came from."
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
Poarch Band of Creek Indians sponsors 5k event
Put together by the Mobile Airport Authority, the 5k race and 1 mile fun run/walk was a benefit event for Doyle Park, an overgrown 24-acre space adjacent to Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley.
Muskogee Technology was a represented vendor at the event, with a booth set up with information materials and giveaway items about the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and Muskogee Tech. Vendors from many other organizations also were on hand, as well as food and game vendors for children of all ages.
Muskogee Technology’s Director of Marketing Mal McGhee was the spokesman for the Tribe and using the police radio from a squad car, got the crowd ready before the race.
“On behalf of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, we are proud to help sponsor this event. The proceeds will go to the Doyle Park project, which will benefit kids and families for years to come,” McGhee said.
According to the website about the renovations, “Doyle Park’s transformation will see the addition of amenities such as athletic fields, a playground, walking trail, splash park and event pavilions. The project also calls for the addition of observation terraces that will provide families with an unmatched vantage point to watch flights by the passenger jets produced at the Airbus A320 Family Assembly Line at the Aeroplex.” A miracle league field for handicap players also is planned.
A live band ended the festivities at the post race after-party as participants and guests milled about the area mingling with friends and talking with company representatives at each station.
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
CIEDA Promotes Safety
Every month, the staff gathers for a safety meeting, led by Training and Development Coordinator Jemison Cunningham. CIEDA also runs safety slides at all seven properties it manages to remind workers to take precautions to ensure a safe work environment. These are fun and informative ways to stay alert and safe without management always bringing up issues, Cunningham said.
In addition to safety meetings, the procurement department also has regular training and safety courses for its teams. Under the direction of Wes Woodruff, teams are overseen by James Agerton and Duke Bradley.
“Our employees go through a considerable number of hours of training to stay on top of safety issues,” Woodruff said. “We are also in compliance with OSHA guidelines and regulations and take great measures to stay that way.”
Woodruff said he and Cunningham attend an OSHA seminar each year to learn updated and new regulations to implement at CIEDA properties.
“A lot of our employees work with heavy equipment,” Woodruff said. “It’s important that we train properly and wear the right safety equipment to avoid any injuries or health conditions that might occur.”
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
Ground Zero: CIEDA land management team clears land for projects
The blazing summer heat waits for no one. Construction and maintenance projects still must be completed, and the land management team at Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA) is hard at work getting them done.
Not one worker complains. At each job site, all you hear are the men joking around, smiles on faces, discussing the next part of the project while wiping sweat from their foreheads and taking a swig of ice water from the cooler that is stocked with bottles.
One such project is the clearing of land on the reservation for the new Boys and Girls Club facilities. Dump trucks, excavators and other big machines roamed all around the property moving dirt from one side or another, scooping dirt up to fill in a hole elsewhere or cleaning up what once was catfish ponds on the site. Red clay from the slay pit property also is being hauled in to lay a firm foundation for the buildings.
"We move about 350-450 loads (of dirt) to fill in 1 acre," Site Manager Ron Marshall said. "Now times that by about 16 and you'll see about 7,000 loads of dirt hauled around."
The timeline for completion of preparing the land is through January 2016. CIEDA Project Coordinator James Agerton said the property is about 30 acres.
"When you get that red clay (from the pit) mixed in with sand, it will create a more firm foundational hold for structures," Agerton said.
Another land clearing project Agerton is overseeing is the log lands on the TR Miller property.
"We cleared the sites in order to plant pollinator plants to aid the wildlife," he said. "Soil samples will be taken to determine exactly which plants are the best to plant here. This will help the plants sustain and grow."
About 13 acres was cleared for the pollinators. Agerton said the property also is being developed to create a wetland bank.
"Property that has been mitigated back to its original form will create a 'bank' or acres that have been made wetlands and can be sold as wetland credits to others," Agerton said. "If you are going to disturb it (for other purposes), then you need to create it somewhere else, and that's what we have done."
CIEDA works in close connection with the Natural Resources Conservation Service on all Tribal conservation efforts.
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
Tribal Member Profile: Renovation Station — Kevin Rackard
Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority is in full-swing mode when it comes to construction management projects. The finished products are usually what people remember, but it’s the behind-the-scenes work and planning that make it all happen.
Although these efforts are accomplished by many people, to the general public it seems almost like only a few people are onsite to build or remodel a structure. However, projects of all sizes have levels of management and supervision, and those people are planning, brainstorming, reworking changes and have hands-on oversight of the entire task.
The CIEDA construction management crew has been busy with an array of projects within the holdings of the Tribe. Internal clients include Tribal government, gaming and CIEDA. To date, eight to 10 construction activities are either ongoing or have been completed under Project Manager Kevin Rackard. Rackard is a Tribal member with 17 years’ experience in construction management.
Projects currently under Rackard’s supervision include the completed cultural kiosk display at Wind Creek Atmore (WCA), the ongoing remodels of the Fire Steakhouse, Grill and Center Bar at WCA, the completed installation of 2,058 fixed seating at the WCA amphitheater as well as the ongoing installation of automatic entrances at WCA and more.
"The best analogy for how these things work is likened to a football game," Rackard said. "I am like a quarterback, who strategizes and leads the team. Project Controls Manager Jim Angus is like the head coach, who gives direction and calls plays but allows his team to participate in the decision-making process, too."
Rackard said a project typically begins by assessing all of the duties needed for success.
"This process can be very extensive," he said. "It begins with the programming — identifying the client’s needs, budgeting and allocating necessary funds, securing and researching land ownership, devising a timeline of completion, etc."
Next comes the design development phase, where the team captures the overall idea of the project and develops the concept, evaluates proposals, awards a firm the contract, communicates with architects and a multitude of other fine-tuning efforts. Then comes the bidding phase of the project to contractors and determining requirements for either a Tribal Set-Aside or a competitive bid in the outside market.
After months of work, the construction finally begins, but the behind-the-scenes work is not done.
"Once the project breaks ground, there still are many changes and updates that happen," Rackard said. "The client might change his mind and add to or subtract from the project. My job is to facilitate meetings and change estimates, crunch numbers and get the best quotes for the client to stay on schedule within the given budget restraints." All of this can take months or even years, depending on the size and scope of the project and the amount of changes being made.
Once the project is complete, the team begins the closeout process, which is like an overall checklist of making sure everything the client wanted was delivered and correct. There are also checklists over the duration of a project for which the manager is responsible, making sure everything is up to par.
"A ton of documents and paperwork is involved throughout the whole process," Rackard said. "There’s so much attention to detail that is required to provide the highest quality service to our clients."
Rackard also said his involvement does not stop even after a project is finished and his team moves on to the next project. He follows up on the warranty periods and coordinates repairs as needed. Plus, Rackard said he remains in contact with the client to assist with questions and requests regarding the completed project.
This showcases the CIEDA construction teams' dedication to providing excellence in service throughout the whole process.
"It's more than just a construction job," Rackard said. "The reward is the fact that I know our team had a small hand in helping build the Tribe’s assets."
So next time you see construction happening, remember there is way more going on than what meets the eye.
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
30 years of service
For 30 years, Kitty Stuart has been a constant in Poarch Creek Indian business ventures. From the beginning of Creek Bingo Palace all the way through to the envision and completion of Creek Travel Plaza (CTP), Creek Convenience Store Atmore (CCSA) and Creek Convenience Store Wetumpka (CCSW), Stuart had a hand in it all.
Now, after three decades, Stuart is hanging up her many hats to enjoy retirement. To show appreciation for all the hard work she has put in throughout the years, Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority and PCI Gaming threw a celebration in honor of Stuart on June 30, 2015.
"During my 30 years, I met some really awesome people," Stuart said. "I have friends and employees who I will think about long after I’ve left. I’ve just had a good life, and I appreciate the Tribe and want to thank the Poarch Creek Indians for the opportunity I was given to do the things that I have done."
Stuart was the second employee hired at Creek Bingo Palace, and for 27 years, worked in the gaming industry before taking over as director of retail operations for CTP, CCSA and CCSW for the past seven years.
"Kitty has a great character," former Chief Eddie Tullis said. "That character of say what you mean and mean what you say has always been Kitty’s trademark. She has always been willing to accept the challenge and be very forgiving with me — we didn’t always see eye to eye, but we got things accomplished, and she did a wonderful job."
Stuart echoed his remarks. "I knew one thing — Eddie always had my back. And I say the same thing about Tim Martin and Edith Travers. I admire and respect all three.
"Never once did I regret going to work; not once," Stuart said. "And not many people can say that."
By Jen Peake
CIEDA Marketing Specialist
CIEDA — Not your average job
There comes a time when just about everyone begins looking for a job. Some search because their circumstances changed, some search out of boredom, but whatever the reason, people work to make a living.
And despite plenty of available jobs to choose from, not all jobs are created equal. But here at Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority, all jobs ARE created equal. Every employee is offered the same benefits package, regardless of level of employment.
From entry level positions to the top managerial rung of the ladder, if you work for one of our businesses, you receive a comprehensive benefits package with a 401(k), health insurance, dental and vision insurance, all at great rates, as well as vacation and sick time, which begin immediately. No waiting for one year to pass by for vacation time or to be vested in a 401(k). And wages are competitive.
This is not true at many comparable jobs in industries such as gas stations, maintenance, hotels, restaurants and parks. The average American cashier makes about $20,000 a year, some with limited benefits and others with zero benefits.
In many states, employers only have to offer health insurance to full-time employees and are not required to offer retirement savings or paid time off. Many national retailers will hire twice as many part-time workers to avoid the high cost of providing benefits to employees. However, CIEDA takes pride in their employees, wants them to succeed and is willing to invest in the workforce. Hiring full-time housekeepers, waitresses, groundskeepers and other entry-level workers allows CIEDA to create more long-term employment and stability, therefore stimulating the Atmore economy.
Tribal members are encouraged to apply for any available job. The general public also may apply to any opening. All are treated the same and enjoy equal benefits and perks. Applications only stay on file for 90 days, so applicants are encouraged to reapply after that time frame.
Human Resources Manager Paula Miller said part-time workers receive holiday pay and a 401(k) and have the opportunity to cross train and move up to full time with full benefits.
“We need good people,” Miller said. “Working for our businesses gives people a chance to learn different skills and better themselves in life, and when you hire someone who wants to learn, that produces good workmanship. We invest in our employees, and they invest in themselves.”
Land management team spruces up Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve
Spring is here, and summer is fast approaching. With that comes gorgeous weather and the need to be outdoors. Birds are chirping, the creek is bubbling and calmness settles in as the sun beams through the trees and warms the Earth. If you close your eyes, you just might can picture yourself stretched out in a hammock feeling the breeze rush over you as your children run around and play.
Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve has been in full swing preparing the park for visitors. The horse trails opened up in March, and the campground has been filling up with RVs and tents as families and friends gather to relax and enjoy the peacefulness.
Canoes, kayaks, tubes, primitive and improved camps … you name it, Magnolia Branch has it. And recently, the park has been continuing its efforts to keep the grounds pristine and beautiful by applying hydroseed to areas that need it. Hydroseeding is a mechanical method of applying seed, fertilizer and mulch to land in one step.
The lake area at Magnolia Branch was prepped and cleared for the job. This project was done by the CIEDA land management team, led by Project Coordinator James Agerton, in conjunction with Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve General Manager Billy Smith. The team has been working on various projects at Magnolia as well as property adjacent to the park and at other CIE businesses. Heavy equipment operators on the team are Andrew McGhee, Jerry Searcy, David Sells, John Sells, Richard Guy, Ronnie Howell, Randy Wearran; heavy equipment mechanic Ron Marshall rounds out the group.
“John Sells has been using a CAT Skid Steer to clear out the entire understory around the lake at Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve,” Agerton said. “John has done a great job opening up the area and making it look like a resort.”
Reese Dunn with M&M Trucking was brought in to apply the hydroseed. He covered ground quickly and efficiently, spraying high and low in a methodical pattern. Once finished, the area was coated in green mixtures that will turn into a green lawn within a few weeks.
This work is part of the lake reclaimation project that will allow the reserve to reclaim previously unusable soil and land within the park and expand it into more usable lake areas for visitors. Hydroseeding is environmentally friendly, and there are no adverse effects to wildlife.
For more about Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve, read their blogs and check out the website at magnoliabranch.com.
Tribe’s conservation efforts enhanced with planting of longleaf pine trees
In the past few months, the land management team at Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA) has been busy clearing about 93.1 acres of what is called the CLM Property in preparation for planting longleaf pine trees. The CLM property sits on Highway 21 about a mile south of Wind Creek Casino and Hotel and is part of ongoing conservation efforts managed by the Tribe, Project Coordinator James Agerton said.
This work, performed under an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Program) contract established with the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), was completed in March under the supervision of Agerton and David Elliott, NRCS Tribal liaison, who maintains the government-to-government relationship between the Tribe and NRCS and addresses the resource needs of the Tribe and tribal members.
By planting the trees, these conservation practices address natural resource concerns and provide opportunities to improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland. The trees will reach maturity height in the next 30 years but can continue to grow for about 150 years. They can live as long as 300-500 years.
According to the USDA, longleaf pine is a highly recommended species for reforestation on many soil types in the southeastern U.S. It also is great for the wildlife that might live in the area. Birds and small mammals eat the large seeds, and ants feed on germinating seeds. The USDA says longleaf pine provides an excellent habitat for the gopher tortoise, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, indigo snake, fox squirrel and many more species.
“NRCS has a national initiative for longleaf pine ecosystem restoration,” Elliot said. “It’s a priority nationally because the ecosystem for longleaf pine has decreased tremendously for the past 200 years.
“It is the most diverse ecosystem there is, even more than the rainforests,” Elliott said. “And that is very important to the Tribe. It is cultural.”