Pioneer Woman Draws Thousands Of Visitors To Oklahoma
PAWHUSKA, Oklahoma - Osage County's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve has long been a popular tourist destination. It is the largest protected ecosystem of its kind left on Earth. Around 2,500 bison roam this land; just an echo of the magnificent herds that used to thunder through these plains from Texas to Minnesota.
But these days, it's tourists who thunder through the once sleepy town of Pawhuska. It's the headquarters of the Osage Nation; and now the crown jewel of the empire built by Ree Drummond, also known as the Pioneer Woman.
Seven years ago, Ree parlayed a wildly popular blog into her own cooking show on the Food Network. In the following years, she expanded into retail with her own line at Walmart, gathered almost five million followers on Facebook and just like Oprah, launched her own magazine.
But for the town of Pawhuska, it was the Mercantile, Ree's restaurant and dry goods store, that changed everything.
Terry Hood talked with Joni Nash, the executive director of the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce.
"Now you've been discovered," Terry pointed out.
"Yes! That's a good way to put that," Nash responded. "It used to be a secret, and now the secret is out."
Nash says after the Merc opened in the fall of 2016, more than 25 new businesses opened their doors in Pawhuska in just six months. Sales and lodging taxes in the town of 3,300 have almost doubled.
"It's really been phenomenal to watch all this happen right before your eyes," said Nash. "And the speed of it happening is amazing."
Ree Drummond has expanded her presence in Pawhuska as well. She's opened a sweet shop, a pizza parlor and her own hotel, which is booked through the end of the year.
Still, the tourists keep coming. Nash says there are as many as 6,000 a day during peak season. Pawhuska is now a point of pride for many Oklahomans.
"Everybody's just excited when we get to come here all the time," said Oklahoma resident Kaila Williams. "They're so jealous!"
Its also a destination for folks from all over the country.
"It's a nice town. Lots of old, nice architecture," said Mike Lyness of Rio Vista, Texas.
"So you'll recommend it to the folks back home?" asked Terry Hood.
"Absolutely!" he responded.
No one is more surprised and pleased by all this success than the Pioneer Woman herself.
"It's very special to me," Ree Drummond told News On 6 after the Mercantile opened.
Ree was writing about the magic of Pawhuska long before most folks had ever heard of the little western town perched on the plains. Adding a new chapter to Pawhuska's already rich history may be her best accomplishment of all.
"I may be the reason people come to visit," said Ree. "But I won't be the only thing they want to stay and see."