When Oklahoma City was in its infancy, the river was where everyone gathered to have fun.
More than a century has passed since Delmar Gardens met its demise, the victim of flooding, mosquitoes, and Oklahoma entering the union as a Prohibition state.
But in its prime, Delmar Gardens, located east of Western Avenue along the north shore of the Oklahoma River, was home to the city's first zoo, ballpark, a beer garden, amusement park and boardwalk.
The rest of the story is well told; the river was “fixed” by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and then brought back to life as part of the 1993 Metropolitan Area Projects and the creation of a boathouse district thanks to Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy, and SandRidge Energy.
Talking to Lee Allan Smith, a veteran civic booster and fundraiser, one cannot help but walk away with new dreams and visions for the city's future. And for Smith, whose current task is raising money for the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center on the river's south shore, the big dream is what's next for the Oklahoma River.
Imagine a boardwalk once again lining the river, replacing the rock riprap placed by the Corp of Engineers a half century ago. Imagine restaurants and hotels adding to the mix of exciting amenities already along the river.
Or simply imagine what the river will look like with the currently funded list of improvements being added as part of MAPS 3 and other public-private endeavors.
The river is already a busy destination again, thanks to the rowing programs that call the Chesapeake and Devon boathouses their year-round home. The river is also a training site for the U.S. Olympic rowing team and the Para Olympics.