As part of ongoing river development, a few enthusiastic Tulsans have proposed a new whitewater rafting park on the Arkansas River, near 31st St. and Riverside Dr. just downstream from the pedestrian bridge.
The new plan would turn east bank urban waterfront, an otherwise spare, flat chunk of the Arkansas River, into a manmade park where Tulsans could kayak, canoe or raft.
Ryan Roberts, DDS, MS, a pediatric dentist with Pediatric Dental Group, got turned onto kayaking by his father-in-law, Ted Wilson. "It's a sport where once you get a taste for it, you can't ever get enough," he said.
Roberts and Jeff Simmons, another Tulsa whitewater enthusiast, are behind this push for the new park.
Roberts said he wanted to get involved in the community as an advocate for children and families in his profession and "in the daily stuff," he said. He thinks a world-class whitewater venue would offer kids an alternative to a sedentary lifestyle.
"Instead of sitting on the couch playing video games, this would give them something cool to do that's outdoors and exciting," Roberts said.
Other mid-sized cities, such as Boise, Idaho, Golden, Colo., Fort Worth, Texas, Charlotte, N.C., Springfield, Ohio, and Reno, Nev., have created their own whitewater parks.
The plan was drawn up by McLaughlin Water Engineers Ltd., a Denver-based whitewater engineering firm that has also designed whitewater parks in Colorado, Idaho, Maryland and Georgia.
A big question for recreation is water quality, Roberts acknowledged, though he said it'd be up to the experts to determine whether or not Tulsa-area water would be safe enough to kayak or raft in.
In October 2006, Tennessee Valley Authority representatives were invited to talk to Corps of Engineers and officials in Tulsa about plans for the Arkansas River. These reps were consulted because of similar river design experiences.
Their recommendations included an artificial whitewater course. "The riverbed drops approximately 35 feet between Sand Springs and Jenks weir (a low-water dam) locations," the February 2009 report stated. "The steepest part of this reach is between Zink Dam and the upper end of the Jenks weir pool. This area would have the opportunity for whitewater recreation with a continuous release of 400-1,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) and the construction of an artificial whitewater course."
Since that time, Tulsa County and INCOG were awarded a $500,000 grant with matching funds from Vision 2025 for the "design and permitting of major improvements to Zink Dam and Lake area," according to the Vision 2025 projects website. This work is now complete.
Roberts said that before construction begins on the new low-water dam, they'll need to gather grassroots support for a whitewater park. That way, plans for the park could be folded neatly into the city's plans to repair Zink Dam's hydraulic system and gates.
Currently, Zink Dam, just downstream from the pedestrian bridge is not safe for recreation. Roberts said that last year an amateur kayaker "attempted to go over the low-water dam and ultimately died."
Additionally, the plan for the new whitewater park would include removal of Blair Fountain (yes, it has a name!), the modern-looking pile of concrete circles also near the pedestrian bridge at 31st St. "That would free up a tremendous amount of space for river development," Roberts said.
The nearest comparable whitewater recreation to Tulsa is at a manmade park in Salida, Colo. Smaller rapids are in Arkansas, too.
The park is tentatively named after what was called the Tulsa Wave, a 500-foot stretch of the river just south of the Zink Dam, which was an underground kayaking destination throughout the 1980s and '90s. Whitewater enthusiasts accessed the waves from the west side of the river.
In 2006, Public Service Company of Oklahoma opened Tulsa Wave Park -- a little too late.
"By the time they did that (opened the park), the waves had already deteriorated and were not attracting boaters," Roberts said. "Tulsa Wave is no longer in existence; it's washed out from a large flooding event."
Check out more information on tulsawhitewaterpark.com or like them Facebook. The site said whitewater parks have increased tourism in other cities, such as Golden, Colo., where its park drew in more than 45,000 paddlers over a three-year period and added $2.3 million to the city coffers.
Since the park is still in its planning stages, construction costs have not been determined.
"This project is not just about a few select individuals," Roberts said. "It's about creating an opportunity for Tulsans to have a better place to live, work and play. It's about getting families out and along the river, participating in recreation in the river. It's about promoting an active, outdoor, healthy lifestyle."
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