January 16, 2016 marked the 10th anniversary of the Chesapeake Boathouse, the facility that helped inspire a new attitude about the river that runs through our great city as well the availability of amenities that influence our urban active outdoor culture. The occasion was marked not by a cocktail reception in the warmth and comfort of the beautiful boathouse event center, but rather a row down the river on a brisk January morning. The choice to take to the water represented that the true success of our 10-year-old Oklahoma River development has come not from the activities in the buildings, but rather the movement they inspired on the water and on the trail.
The unison of puddles from the oar blades marked a graceful path down our now familiar watery urban landscape and along a riverfront that has dramatically transformed over the past 10 years. Dilapidated structures, trash dumps, and weed-infested lots made way for a collection of iconic facilities and recreational amenities. These riverfront amenities were designed to embrace the river not as a pleasant backdrop, but rather as a backyard that invites activity and outdoor engagement. Sleek racing shells and recreational kayaks are now as common a daily sight on our river as runners, walkers, and cyclists on the adjacent trails. Yes, our river has truly been activated.
The rise of Oklahoma River as a model urban recreational magnet complements the vibrant outdoor scene that continues to explode at Lake Hefner, the serenity of Lake Overholser, and the beautiful nature trails of Martin Park, among the many other outdoor amenities of Central Oklahoma. Growing an active culture requires the motivation to get off the couch and go outside and replacing the Ipad or Xbox with paddles or pedals.
Discovering the benefits of an active lifestyle can truly make a transformational impact upon your quality of life and those around you. Oklahoma continues to struggle with health and wellness metrics and some of the impediment to getting active can be attributed to our own perception and awareness of the outdoor amenities around us. The mountains of Colorado or the beaches of California are not a pre-requisite to advancing and outdoor culture in this community. Too often I hear as an excuse for being sedentary that there is just not enough to do outside. To this I respond with questions such as:
“Have you ridden the beautiful new MAPS 3 bike trail from Lake Overholser to the Oklahoma River or the Katy Trail on east side of town?”
“Have you had the experience of sailing across one America’s finest inland sailing lakes?”
“Have you experienced nature’s wonderland in the Stinchcomb Wildlife Preserve from the water where it is easy to forget you within the city limits of Oklahoma City?”
“Have you climbed to the top of the world’s tallest Sky Trail ropes course that towers over the Oklahoma River?”
“Have you tried mountain biking or hiking at the renowned trail system at Lake Draper?”
“Have you taken a rowing lesson and tied what you may have read about in Boys in the Boat along the only river in America to carry the Olympic rings that athletes have flocked to from across America in pursuit of their Olympic dream.”
And soon I will ask, “Have you gone rafting or kayaking in Oklahoma City’s state-of-the-art whitewater center that is just a short walk from the Bricktown Entertainment District?”
Oklahoma City continues to activate underutilized parks and outdoor resources throughout the metropolitan area and new outdoor treasures can be continually found by becoming an explorer in your own city. While this activation continues to transform our landscape, the true transformation can be seen in those who discover that Oklahoma City offers the opportunity for remarkably diverse outdoor experiences that lead to active outdoor lifestyles. The resulting impact upon community health and wellness can be profound and create a “movement” that can last for generations.
There is a new park that you have not seen awaiting you and your children or grandchildren to discover. There are new sports to try within industry-leading venues. From rowing to rapids and biking to climbing, an outdoor lifestyle is now easy to have in Oklahoma City. There are no age limits or experience needed to get outside and do your part to activate our community and your own healthy lifestyle.
Ten achievements in ten years that represent the historic and internationally-recognized activation of Oklahoma River:
- Chesapeake Boathouse Opens
The first boathouse on the Oklahoma River, the Chesapeake Boathouse anchors the Boathouse District and is Oklahoma City’s community boathouse for rowing and canoe/kayak.
- Olympic Trials held on the Oklahoma River
In 2008, the Oklahoma River and Boathouse District hosted the USA Canoe/Kayak Olympic Trials for flatwater sprint. Athletes from all over the country converged on OKC in hopes to punch their tickets to compete in the Olympic Games. Trials returned to the Oklahoma River again in 2012, ahead of the London Olympic Games.
- Boathouse District receives US Olympic and Paralympic Training Site designation
In 2009, the Boathouse District was named an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site. As one of 15 U.S. Olympic sites and one of 6 Paralympic sites, the Boathouse District provides training resources for elite-level athletes in the sports of rowing and canoe/kayak.
- USA Canoe/Kayak moves headquarters to OKC
After the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center designation and the announcement of the MAPS 3 project RIVERSPORT Rapids, officials at USA Canoe/Kayak relocated national team headquarters to the Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River in 2011.
- Chesapeake Finish Line Tower opens
A gift from Chesapeake Energy Corporation to Oklahoma City, the Chesapeake Finish Line Tower opened in 2011. It meets the standards for both FISA, the international governing body for the sport of rowing, and the International Canoe Federation (ICF), the governing body for canoe/kayak worldwide, and is used throughout the year during both race events and community activities.
- Devon Boathouse opens
In 2010, the Devon Boathouse opened on the Oklahoma River. Originally built to house the Oklahoma City University rowing and canoe/kayak programs, it now also serves as the Oklahoma City National High Performance Center, a training site for elite-level USRowing and USA Canoe/Kayak athletes. The training facilities include a dynamic propulsion indoor rowing tank, a high-altitude training room and an endless swimming pool.
- MAPS 3 race course lighting complete
Another integral part of the MAPS 3 Oklahoma River improvements, the permanent race course lighting along the river was completed in 2013. Making the Oklahoma River the only permanently lit flatwater course in the world, the Boathouse District now hosts regular night racing, like the OGE Night Sprints.
- SandRidge Sky Trail opens
At 80 feet tall and with a zipline spanning 700 feet across the Oklahoma River, the iconic SandRidge SkyTrail is the tallest adventure course of its kind in the world. Open in 2014, the SandRidge SkyTrail started a new chapter in support the OKCBF mission to increase health and fitness in Oklahoma City by providing exciting outdoor adventures, while also helping to provide opportunities for elite-level athletes hoping for a chance to compete on the world stage.
- International Canoe Federation World Championships come to OKC
The Boathouse District and OKC once again played host to elite paddle sport athletes for the International Canoe Federation World Championships in 2014. This was the first time this event was hosted in the U.S., and was a defining moment for OKC in the world of paddle sports.
- CHK | Central Boathouse opens
Home to the University of Central Oklahoma rowing program, the CHK | Central Boathouse opened in 2015. Dubbed by UCO as the place where “art meets the river,” the CHK | Central Boathouse features the Martha Burger Art Gallery and the MidFirst Bank Performance Hall, in addition to team training facilities.
RIVERSPORT Rapids to Open May 7-8
With a grand opening extravaganza set for May 7-8, 2016, to include the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Road to Rio celebration, USA Canoe/Kayak Slalom Olympic Team Trials and a music and fireworks festival, the MAPS 3 RIVERSPORT Rapids whitewater facility will continue to place OKC at the front and center for elite sporting events. This event will also proudly mark the debut of the iconic Rotary Point as the location in the State of Oklahoma where athletes become Olympians.