Drought leads to dry springs, waterfall at Chickasaw National Recreation Area

A few times a week, Sally Volk watches visitors at Chickasaw National Recreation Area climb out of their cars, run toward the swimming area at Little Niagara Falls and then walk sadly back to their vehicles.
by Silas Allen Modified: August 23, 2014 at 3:00 pm •  Published: August 23, 2014


photo - Below: Noel Osborn, Chief of Resources Management at Little Niagara Falls, explains why a man-made waterfall at Chickasaw National Recreation Area has gone dry in the drought.
Photos by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman  David McDaniel - The Oklahoman
Below: Noel Osborn, Chief of Resources Management at Little Niagara Falls, explains why a man-made waterfall at Chickasaw National Recreation Area has gone dry in the drought. Photos by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman David McDaniel - The Oklahoman

— A few times a week, Sally Volk watches visitors at Chickasaw National Recreation Area climb out of their cars, run toward the swimming area at Little Niagara Falls and then walk sadly back to their vehicles.

On most summer weekends, the swimming area below the man-made waterfall is filled with water and people. But lately, Volk, a camp host at nearby Cold Springs Campground, hasn’t seen much of either.

“They’re very disappointed that Little Niagara isn’t falling,” Volk said. “It’s just so sad to see it so dry here.”

Since February, Buffalo and Antelope springs, in the far northeast section of the park, have been dry after several years of drought. That’s left the upper sections of Travertine Creek, including Little Niagara Falls, with no water.

The park, like most of the state, has been in drought since 2010. Noel Osborn, the park’s chief resource manager, said that lack of moisture has caused water levels in the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer to drop. Buffalo and Antelope springs are on higher ground than other areas in the park, meaning they’re generally the first springs to be affected when the water table drops, she said.

At lower altitude, smaller springs and seeps are still flowing, meaning there’s still water in the creek further downstream. But water levels in those areas are still far below normal. On Thursday morning, water was trickling where it would normally be cascading through Bear Falls, another man-made waterfall downstream from Little Niagara.

Much of Murray County, where the park is located, is in moderate drought, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday. The area is in better shape than other counties to the west, where the drought is more severe.

But Osborn said nearly four years of dry conditions have had a long-term effect on the aquifer. The summer showers that have passed through the area lately haven’t done much to reverse that trend.

“It’s just not enough,” she said. “Not in August.”

Little Niagara Falls was built in the 1930s by Civilian Conservation Corps workers. Since then, the falls have been one of the park’s most popular attractions, park Superintendent Bruce Noble said.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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