Sep. 3—A normal person driving on State Highway 43 would not know that taking a dirt road peppered with cow patties would lead to a state-of-the-art drone flight command center located on 22,000 acres that contains ground radar sites, weather sensors, spotter towers, and other technology that help fly unmanned aircraft safely.
Thousands of acres of ranchland located in parts of southern Pittsburg County owned by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is being used for not only traditional uses and are helping grow the area's economy through tourism and technological advances.
The Ti Valley Ranch near Blanco, and the Daisy Ranch near Daisy, encompasses a total of 44,000 acres across southern Pittsburg County and parts of Atoka and Pushmataha counties in southeastern Oklahoma.
Located on the Daisy Ranch, the Emerging Aviation Technology Center is where the tribe and its partners test out the latest in emerging drone technology.
James Grimsley, the executive director of the Choctaw Nation's Advanced Technology Initiatives, said the tribe viewed opening the aviation center and investing in drone technology as a way to diversify the area's economy and economic upturn.
"The tribe was very interested in diversification," Grimsley said. "And if you look at where the big opportunity of the future, it's going to be with emerging transportation technology."
Grimsley said the tribe's goal is to help make life better for everyone and not just tribal members.
"We want to see how we can use this technology to make everyone's life better within Choctaw Nation and how we can make things safer, how can we improve the quality of health, overall quality of life, and transportation is a big part of that," Grimsley said. "If we can make transportation easier, safer, better, faster — we can make people's lives better. So, it's pretty holistic."
The Choctaw Nation is the only tribal nation that is a part of the Federal Aviation Administration's BEYOND Program that tests drone flights beyond visible line of sight, analyzes the societal and economic benefits of unmanned flight operations, and addressing community concerns.
When the tribe is not using the ranch for its own use, private companies and defense and government contractors pay the tribe to use the site to test their own technology as it easier to fly at the Daisy Ranch than it is anywhere else in the nation due to the FAA already giving the airspace the proper clearance for such flights.
"The military can go to a military test range, but they control access," Grimsley said. "So that's a difference, you can't take non-military aircraft to test. So, if you're developing a new electric vehicle and stuff, there's not a lot of places you can test."
Grimsley said what is being tested at the range today will be in use commercially by the end of the decade
"That's in out prediction. We're on the cusp of seeing a lot of stuff happening that's going to seem like it's moving," Grimsley said. "Drone deliveries will be happening within this decade, but it'll be happening in isolated pockets very soon.
"We think it's important for us to be in this, this is going to help improve our quality of life. Not only is it an economic opportunity. The technology will make our lives better."
Located approximately 30 minutes north of the Daisy Ranch lies the Ti Valley Ranch.
The Ti Valley Ranch is home to 22,000 acres of hunting land that brings in out-of-state guests to hunt several different species of game animals.
"In 2016, the nation started the commercial operation of the hunting lodge," said Jody Standifer, the Choctaw Nation's Director of Agriculture and Wildlife. "The lodge itself had been there for several years prior to and the nation had owned the land for several years."
According to Standifer, guests can hunt native free range whitetail deer, wild hogs, and turkey along with several other exotics that are brought into the lodge's 1,000 acre high fence preserve throughout the year.
"Anything from an axis and aoudad, fallow, elk. We have the ability to being in a lot of different species inside the high fence enclosure," Standifer said.
Out of the average 200 hunters a year the lodge hosts, Standifer said the most popular hunt is the wild hogs.
"Our hog hunting has become very popular to a lot of folks from up north and back east because they don't have hogs," Standifer said.
Starting as low as $1,250 per person for a three-day fully guided hog hunt, guests are treated to full accommodations such private room lodging, meals, hors d'oeuvres, snacks and beverages, transportation to and from the field, dedicated and experienced guide, and other fees depending on the class of the hunt.
"It could be up to $10,000 for a trophy bull elk or a trophy whitetail in the preserve," Standifer said.
Along with the cost of the hunt, hunters, other than Choctaw tribal members, must obtain the proper hunting licenses and tags prior to the hunt and must bring their own equipment, according to Standifer.
The 12,000 square foot lodge can also be rented out for weddings, meetings, reunions, and other events as well and features several bedrooms, a large dining area, home theater system, fire pits, and a horseshoe and volleyball area outside.
Prices to rent the lodge start at $200 per person a night with all accommodations included.
More information about the guided hunts and lodge rental can be found by visiting www.choctawhuntinglodge.com.