Sunday, March 23, 2008

Short Kayak Trip on Okmulgee Creek

Yesterday afternoon I ventured out to a spot, not far from home, that is only rarely suitable for paddling. Okmulgee Creek is a narrow creek that runs South through the town of Okmulgee Oklahoma and eventually dumps into the Deep Fork River on its way to Lake Eufaula.

Normally, the water level is too low to cover much distance, but the flooded state of the Deep Fork River has backed up many small creeks in the area. Conditions were OK for paddling, but real lame for taking pictures...wrong time of day. Still, I found it very interesting to view the dark underbelly of our town so intimately.

I had expected to put-in at the YMCA and paddle upstream to the 6th Street Bridge. Unfortunately, the current got quite a bit swifter and the water shallower as I headed upstream. If I could find a decent put-in upstream it would be a pretty fun ride down at this level.

My non-scientific observation is that Okmulgee Creek is pretty nasty. Paddling South from the YMCA required making a portage around some large metal things that cross the creek and strain large amounts of the floating litter. Wal-Mart bags coil around the tree branches while old milk jugs, water bottles and soda cans float on an oily bed of sludge in many spots.

Although Okmulgee Creek feeds the Deep Fork River, the water is local so it hasn't picked up the red tone and sticky clay banks of the river. You can paddle under the 20th Street Bridge and then South for only half a mile or so before you come to another big metal trash catcher that crosses the entire creek.

I spoke to a local Okmulgee newsman last summer that had a vision for cleaning up and developing Okmulgee Creek as a tourism attraction and local recreation asset. Considering the way the creek snakes through the heart of Okmulgee and crosses under many major streets with lovely old arch style bridges, I think he has a pretty good idea.

Sadly, the idea is probably decades too late to get funded. The business community has already mostly abandoned downtown Okmulgee for two narrow strips of land along each side of Highway 75. Our most memorable landmark has become the road that leads out of town. The path of least investment leads to a bedroom community today and to a ghost town tomorrow.

The park and pedestrian trails that are on both sides of Okmulgee Creek represent smart investments in this resource. Since the area is prone to flood, the uses for this land are limited. However, assets like the jogging trails, BBQ grills, benches and Disc Golf setup are affordable and tend to snap back pretty quickly from short term flooding. Although there is no real canoe launch, there is plenty of free parking!

You can see some of the pictures I have taken of Okmulgee Creek in this Flickr Set.

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