The Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River has certainly changed Oklahoma City.
It’s changed how people outside Oklahoma view the city and state. It’s changed the way its own citizens view their city and state.
It’s already twice been the site of an Olympic Trial in canoe/kayak and has been the training ground for several Olympians and Paralympians in both rowing and canoe/kayak.
But what will the next 20 years bring for the Boathouse District and Oklahoma City? Mike Knopp, executive director of the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, thinks the Boathouse District will help position the Oklahoma River and Oklahoma City as an international tourist destination.
“In 20 years time ... the Boathouse District will be one of the nation’s premier urban destinations for outdoor adventure and fitness,” he said.
“By then the Boathouse District will be fully built out along the north bank with our current adventure amenities, the SandRidge Sky Trail, Youth Zone and on the water activities, as well as the coming attractions, including Zip Line, Surf Park, Whitewater Center and expanded climbing and cycling elements.”
Knopp also envisions the Boathouse District extending west to offer more urban adventures and the south bank being developed, as well.
“I see the possibility for many new amenities with the sports and adventure themes continuing to grow, expanding the number of ways we merge fitness and wellness with entertainment and adventure,” he said.
Joe Jacobi, the chief executive of USA Canoe/Kayak which relocated to Oklahoma City because of the growing Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River, predicts Oklahoma will have a native son or daughter competing in the Olympics in paddling or rowing in the next 20 years, not just an athlete who has moved to Oklahoma City to train in the Boathouse District.
“Oklahoma will have realized its own first Olympian in canoe/kayak well before 2033 — more likely by 2020 — with a strong chance for an Olympic medal won by an Oklahoman by 2024,” Jacobi said.
The coaching, equipment, access to the water and community support provided to rowers and paddlers in Oklahoma City already is producing improved results in international competition, he said.
“Additionally, much of the support team and staff that make winning medals possible will be Oklahoma-based too,” he said. “This could include all elements of sports medicine and technology, including equipment manufacturing.”
Knopp also predicts future Olympic and Paralympic champions coming from Oklahoma City’s Boathouse District, as well as NCAA and world champions in both rowing and paddling.
“The depth of talent that is already emerging from Oklahoma City is raising the caliber of all the athletes who train on our waterway, from our growing junior programs to the robust collegiate programs at OU, UCO and OCU,” he said.
Much of that future success will be the result of the expected expansion of youth rowing in the city, he said.
“With one of the world’s premier venues and all the collegiate and Olympic opportunities that are available, it seems natural that river sports would become a focus for central Oklahoma middle schools and high schools in much the same way as schools in world class mountain resort communities embrace skiing,” Knopp said.
Jacobi said the white-water venue to be built on the Oklahoma River will be unique and become part of the city’s brand.
“Music and the arts will be a much larger component of the Boathouse District, as well as accommodations, dining and retail,” he said.
Knopp said the Boathouse District and activities on the Oklahoma River will continue to put Oklahoma City in the national spotlight in the next 20 years and improve the quality of life for its residents.
Knopp envisions more ways the Boathouse District can reach children with special needs and the disabled, “so more people can experience the freedom of being on the water in a kayak or rowing shell.”
The best of what the Boathouse District will offer is yet to come, he said.
“It’s amazing we’ve accomplished so much in less than a decade,” he said. “In 20 years, I believe the Oklahoma River’s impact upon the lives of Oklahomans will be the most powerful statement about the success of the river.”