Today marked the opening of the souvenir shack at the historic Blue Whale, just off Route 66 in Catoosa, Okla. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, or for special occasions or sizable tour groups.
The stand sells postcards (many of them decades old), T-shirts, magnets, coozies, Catoosa creme soda, and even Blue Whale bottled water.
The reopening of the Blue Whale souvenir shack caps weeks of cleanup and reconstruction by dedicated volunteers with the Catoosa Arts & Tourism Society. But the work is not finished by a long shot.
As British tourists frolicked in and around the Blue Whale (including Billy Connolly and his film crew later that day), key Catoosa Tourism & Arts Society volunteer Ron Edwards told about other plans this summer:
— Within weeks, the souvenir stand will be fully renovated and enclosed so it can be air-conditioned. This will allow visitors to take a respite from Oklahoma’s notorious heat as they shop for souvenirs.
— The souvenir stand will be equipped to handle credit-card purchases, and already is partially.
— The Blue Whale soon will be established as a free Wi-Fi hot spot for those with laptops and mobile devices. Edwards has called it “Blue-Fi.”
— The Blue Whale’s official website launched Friday, and an online store will be operational later this year.
— Catoosa Arts & Tourism Society is recognized as a nonprofit in Oklahoma and is working on its federal nonprofit status. This will make it eligible for many grants.
— Free concerts on the grounds will be organized.
— The Blue Whale volunteers also will set up movie nights for children. The 2006 Disney-Pixar movie “Cars” was cited as an example.
“We want to get a whole new generation to have a good memory of the Blue Whale,” Edwards said.
In the long term, projects include:
— Repairing the west dock that extends into the pond.
— Building a full trail around the pond, including a floating walkway on the east side. This would allow visitors to expand their photo opportunities.
— Renovating and rebuilding the nearby Ark so it can serve as a museum to the history of the Blue Whale, the Ark, and their creators, Hugh and Zelta Davis.
It’s an ambitious set of plans. But having seen what’s been accomplished this year, nothing for this group seems impossible.