Sure, you know the Oklahoma River as the place where Olympic athletes and amateurs, the active and the amenable, and the aged and the adolescent (and even younger) alike engage in paddlesports, adventure sports, cycling, running, spectating, cruising, and even some fishing. But it was not always so! Nosiree Bob.
Back in the day, the river used to run wild and had to be tamed. That’s right – today’s pristine venue was yesterday’s bad news. Flooding along the unpredictable North Canadian (the river’s original moniker) was a regular problem in the early days of OKC, and major floods turned downtown into a real downer in 1923 and 1932. So the Army Corps of Engineers stepped in, straightened and widened the river channel (between 1953-1958).
Success! No more floods. Unfortunately, that also meant not much water in the river for much of the time (which is kind of a bummer for a river). Incredibly, the river even had to be mowed at times. Things got so bad, you could almost watch TV in it without getting wet.
Enter MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects), passed in 1993 by the citizens of OKC who were ready to take charge of their city’s future. Among its nine projects was a little somethin’ for the riverfront. In 1999, engineers and builders started partying on the river, constructing three low-water dams with boat locks, along with landscaping and recreational areas. Boom! Constant water gave the river new life. The waterway was renamed the Oklahoma River for a seven-mile stretch through OKC in 2004. Dell opened its OKC complex on the riverfront in 2005, and the Chesapeake Boathouse opened in 2006.
It was so great, the New York Times even profiled the river in 2008. Today there are two boathouses, the fantastic futuristic Chesapeake Finish Line Tower, the SandRidge Youth Pavilion, and the world’s first permanent river stadium lighting system. What’s coming up? The MAPS 3 whitewater rafting course, stadium seating, two more boathouses, and more. As Mayor Cornett recently said, “We used to mow it; now we row it.”