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Kiwanis Club, GRDA host river cleanup - Tahlequah Daily Press


The Grand River Dam Authority partnered with the Kiwanis Club of Tahlequah for the 2017 Scenic Rivers Fall Fest at Diamondhead Resort on Saturday.

The two organizations decided to combine the Kiwanis Race for the Kids and the annual river clean-up day, as locals scooped up trash in the morning and participated in the races afterward. The campgrounds at Diamondhead Resort featured a variety of vendors and activities for kids, while DocFell & Co. performed on stage.

"Over the years, we've had a variety of venues," said Ed Fite, vice president of scenic rivers and water quality for the Grand River Dam Authority. "Sometimes we just do the clean, but this year, we decided to put everything together for a good cause."

The canoe and kayak racers were noticeably tired when they cruised across the finish line. Lynn Carson, regional president for Armstrong Bank, was among them.

"This was my first year to do the canoe race," said Carson. "I've always done the kayak race before, and this will be my last year to do the canoe. We had a lot more weight in our canoe than anybody else, which makes it a little more challenging, but I enjoy the physical challenge."

Local couple Ray and Sandy Campbell also competed in the canoe race, and they said they were rowing too fast to enjoy the scenery.

"This is our third year to do it, and it was really fun," said Sandy Campbell. "We finished second. I hoped to be finishing first, but it was still a good time."

The 3.8 miles from Edmondson Public Access area to Diamondhead challenged participants' physical ability, but also their ability to work with one another.

"Anytime you can float, be in the same boat and not get a divorce is a good thing," said Ray Campbell. "I had to give her a little direction every now and then without hitting her in the head with the paddle."

Still, by the end of the race, the Campbells said the festival was all about having a good time, anyway.

The Illinois River has a history that not everyone may know about. The 1960s and '70s marked a crucial time for environmental regulations, as Congress passed the Wild and Scenic River Act in 1968.

One longtime advocate for the Scenic Rivers Commission, Phil Lorenz, traveled from Bartlesville for the festival. He enjoyed catching up with Fite while there.

Fite said that Lorenz, who recently turned 97, played an influential part in preventing the federal government from expropriating river property. He did that by working with former state legislatures to pass the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act at the state level.

"We didn't want to have the federal government come and condemn the river by eminent domain," said Fite. "There were 30 states like Oklahoma that, in 1970, passed the wild and scenic rivers act at the state level, so that hopefully they could distract the federal government from focusing attention on maybe taking some of our rivers."

In 1974 and early 1975, U.S. senators asked the Department of the Interior to study the Illinois River and its two tributaries at the time - Barren Fork and Flint creeks - to be possible components of national designation.

"When that happened, the state stepped up even more so, and we added a couple of rivers after we started with the initial scenic rivers act," said Fite.

By 1975, the the list of rivers under the state Wild and Scenic Rivers Act included the Illinois River, Upper Mountain Fork River, Flint and Big Lee Creek.

"[Lorenz] had a hand in that," said Fite. "In 1977, the [Oklahoma Scenic Rivers] Commission was created, and that's because of their efforts. Then we added the sixth and final stream that we have in the program, and that is the Little Lee Creek. You're looking at the guy who really started all of this. This is an institutional icon right here."

At 97, Lorenz continues to be a good steward to the now-GRDA Scenic Rivers, as he made sure to get out of his canoe to retrieve any trash he saw while floating.

"It seems a lot less trashier than before," said Lorenz. "People need to be aware of what an asset [the Illinois River] is to the state, and it needs to be preserved as an asset."

Lorenz, who's floated the Illinois in the figures of triple digits, said he plans to make it to the 2018 Scenic Rivers Fall Fest, when he's 98.

"I always enjoy floating," he said. "I enjoy the scenery and the wild flowers, but it's also sporting. I always wish I had never floated the river before, so I could have the fun of doing it for the first time again."

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