River development changed Oklahoma City
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (KTUL) - River development in the state's capital city has provided a tremendous economic boost.
The people who put water in the Oklahoma River are glad the voters supported that effort.
This once dry, dusty southern city now has some of the nation's best whitewater.
At their new Riversport Adventures Park, huge pumps turn half a million gallons a minute, into boiling rapids.
There are two different whitewater courses for visitors to enjoy.
The Boathouse District offers all kinds of outdoor challenges, even for Tulsa kids.
During our visit, we found Union fourth-graders getting ready for a dragon boat race.
It was a new experience for them, so there was a lot of laughing and screaming.
While they were a little timid at first, it quickly turned into a fierce competition.
They got to experience the river, without anyone falling in it.
The kids had the time of their lives and the school staff says they'd love to have this field trip back home.
Librarian Debra Meeker said, "We have this wonderful river, it's a gorgeous city, let’s do it there."
Enjoying the river isn't new to Oklahoma City.
Going back to the 1800's, people here enjoyed their stream.
Unfortunately, it was never much of a river, because it rarely held much water.
Plus, in the best of times, the fun was overshadowed by a treat of deadly flooding.
The efforts to ease that danger, would eventually make the river, even less appealing.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said the river wasn't an asset.
Cornett said, "You just can't have a great sense of pride in your city if you have a big ditch that you have to mow twice a year. That was Oklahoma City's stance for decades."
The Army Corp of Engineers turned it into a long, straight drainage ditch.
Even when it had water it was ugly, but building three dams changed the city.
That created seven miles of useful river, that are now home to an Olympic Training Center, a ropes course, zip lines, bike trails and playgrounds.
The man who came up with the idea now heads the Boathouse Foundation.
Mike Knopp said he's amazed by what's happened.
"When I graduated from high school here, all of my friends left Oklahoma City," Knopp said.
"There wasn't a lot to do outside. That quality of life issues that was kind of missing."
The river allowed the city to re-invent itself by changing its image.
That's lead to new business opportunities from restaurants to aviation.
Mike Carrier is the President of the Chamber of Commerce and he said they've attracted billions in new business.
Carrier said, "Things like Boeing bringing new facilities here, new programs here, from Wichita from Long Beach and around the country. That they would not have brought here, had we not improved the quality of life here."
The civic investment has also sparked residential development downtown.
Mayor Cornett said, "20 years ago if you were living downtown, you were probably in jail! Today it's one of the hottest aspects of living in Oklahoma City."
Just north of the river, there are new apartments and condos being built in several areas.
Young professionals can get a craft beer, a wood-fired pizza or a raft trip without ever starting their cars.
Work on Tulsa's A Gathering Place will help our river development, by providing one of the world's finest parks.
Mayor Bynum says he's optimistic, that Tulsa's current investments, will create similar momentum.
Bynum said, "I think there no question, that what we're doing along the river is really just the first stage."
While our river is bigger and more expensive to improve, it also has a better shoreline and more potential.
Bynum doesn't think that will be lost on Tulsa voters.
Bynum said, "I think the same momentum is going to occur when people see what the Arkansas river can be. When we create this first lake, it's going to create a demand for more lakes along the corridor."
So don't be surprised to see a Vision Three vote for Arkansas improvements, when all the work is done in Midtown.
The people who developed the river in OKC say it’s an asset that shouldn't be wasted.