Who would have thought in 1990 that Tulsans would look with longing toward Oklahoma City for just about anything, much less its river? Two decades ago, the stream that cut across Oklahoma City was a river only in the academic sense. It needed mowing, to cite a cliche.
Tulsa has a real river running through it. But sometimes it's hard to find the water. Tulsa leaders are pushing for low-water dams and Oklahoma City's river improvements, funded initially by MAPS, are viewed with longing.
“We need look no further than Oklahoma City to understand the importance of a river that holds water,” a Tulsa World editorial noted this week. “Oklahoma City leaders convinced voters to support the MAPS projects that have transformed that city. Dams were built on the normally all-but-dry North Canadian River (renamed the Oklahoma River) and it now has water. It also is a destination point for canoeists and kayakers. In the works is a future water park that could rival most any Olympic water feature.”
Some Tulsans may confuse the Oklahoma River with the Bricktown Canal, another MAPS project. The latter is man-made. It didn't exist before. The Oklahoma River isn't a canal but a series of dams, locks and lakes. The Arkansas River flowing through Tulsa is dammed upstream, which controls flooding but also keeps downstream water levels low.
Despite current dry conditions, Tulsa's riverside amenities are fabulous. They draw thousands of people to the trails and parks. The Oklahoma River has years to go before it resembles the old-growth look of Tulsa's riverside. Last year Tulsa voters nixed an initiative that would have included river improvements. A state bond issue was killed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Our river's status as an exemplar would have shocked people 20 years ago. This is all the more reason for today's citizens to spend more time enjoying the Oklahoma River.