Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission
Volume 9 Issue 4 December 2012
Dr. Riley Needham
Archie “Trey “Peyton, III
Over the course of my almost 30 years of work, I find it interesting that people
continue to raise questions of how the Illinois River got its name.
Some people are under the impression that the river was named for the state of
Illinois; that is not the case. In fact, this Illinois River does not even pass through the state.
The river headwaters in the foothills of the Boston Mountains, located southwest of present
day Fayetteville, Arkansas, which just happens to be a considerable distance away from the
state of Illinois. The headwaters are located just to the south of the Hogeye community,
where the river’s beginning emanates from several springs. From there it flows northwesternly,
making its quest downstream crossing into Oklahoma just south of Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
The river flows a distance some 145+ miles in length from its headwaters to its confluence
with the Arkansas River, near Gore, Oklahoma.
The river was actually named by the French, the first explorers to come through the
region. The French derived the river’s name for the Illini Indian Tribe they encountered. Illini
is pronounced “ih-LIE-nee,” and Illinois is pronounced “ih-lih-NOY”, like the state. Today,
descendants of the Illini Tribe make up the Peoria Indian Tribe of Oklahoma.
In 1806, many years after the French’s exploration, Lt. James Wilkinson became the
first American explorer to visit the river area. Wilkinson sustained the French naming when
he recorded crossing the river des Illinois.
On the topic of the origin of scenic river names, I would like to turn to an on-going
debate I’ve held with retired Tahlequah area dentist, Charles Carroll, and former state senator,
Herb Rozell, about the spelling of the Barren Fork Creek. The Barren Fork, which happens to
be the largest and longest tributary to the river, was first simply called the Fork of the Illinois.
In 1841, the region experienced its first major drought of record. The creek completely dried
up and remained dry for several years, leading locals to name it the Barren Fork Creek. Even
after water again began to flow in the creek the Barren Fork Creek name remained. The
retired dentist and former state senator still take exception by spelling the creek’s name as
Baron, while others spell it Barron.
For the record, Dr.
Brad Agnew, renowned
history professor maintains
the correct spelling is
lacking). Also, Oklahoma
law utilizes the “Barren”
How did the Illinois Make its way to Oklahoma?
A winter view of the river.
River Currents Vol Issue
OSRC Board and Agency News
7 9 Issue 1 4
Illinois River Streambank Stabilization Projects
What do brush toes, log veins, and sycamores have
in common? All three were used for the stabilization of eroding
Illinois River Watershed streambanks in a recent project
overseen by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC)
with assistance from Oklahoma State University (OSU). The
OCC was tasked with putting $2 million of America
Reinvestment and Renewal Act (ARRA) money on the ground
from the Oklahoma Clean Water State Revolving Fund via
the Oklahoma Water Resource Board. Many agencies were
brought together for the job of compiling an initial list of forty-five
candidate sites. Eleven sites were eventually selected;
four public parks, three sites public access points, and four
Northstate Environmental, working with Jennings
Environmental and Stantec, was selected in a best value
bidding process to do the work. Their task was to stabilize
these eleven areas using natural materials instead of
traditional rip-rap. Cut banks ranged from 5-15 feet in
height; therefore re-connecting the water body to its
floodplain was the first order of business. Stabilizing
the site to avoid future erosion was a close second.
Methods employed included channel realignment, re-sloping
banks, creating new bank benches, rock veins,
J-hooks, log structures, and brush toes. Work began
June 11 and was completed by August 31 since all monies
had to be spent by that time.
The results were immediate and dramatic. Over
6,500 feet of streambank was stabilized reducing the
amount of sediment added to the waterway by an
estimated 900 tons/year! Although some sycamores
were re-located to the new bank benches, further
vegetation will be needed to ensure complete success
of the project. OCC will be hosting a “Riparian
Vegetation Workshop” in Tahlequah on March 18 & 19,
2013. Participants will learn the why, what, and how of
re-establishing vegetation in riparian areas.
This project has pioneered the way for
additional stabilization undertakings in the watershed.
OCC is maintaining a list of candidate sites and hopes
to continue to build on the success of this project. For
further information on this project, the vegetation
workshop, or to be considered as a candidate site,
please contact Gina Levesque, OCC Conserve Reserve
Enhancement Program Coordinator at 918-456-1919.
By Gina Levesque, Oklahoma Conservation Commission Reserve Enhancement Program Coordinator
The OSRC would like to congratulate
water advocate Ed Brocksmith for his
recent recognition as an Oklahoma
Water Pioneer. Brocksmith is a well-known
advocate of northeastern
Oklahoma’s waters, particularly the
Illinois River. He was recently
recognized as a Water Pioneer for
his conservation efforts at the annual
Governor’s Water Conference.
The Oklahoma Water Pioneer Award was established
in 1985. Since the award’s inception more than 100
Oklahomans have received this title. Past winners range from
farmers and ranchers to legal advocates to government
officials, such as former Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
Brocksmith was nominated for his continued efforts
on behalf of the Illinois River. He was a co-founding member
of the group Save the Illinois River (STIR) and has been a
driving force in the organization’s efforts to raise awareness
of river issues among citizens and lawmakers. In 1986,
Brocksmith’s dedication to Oklahoma rivers led to his
appointment as an OSRC Commissioner. He served as the
board Chairman during his four-year term. Brocksmith was
re-appointed to the board in 1998 and served another four-year
term. Brocksmith was later elected to the board in 2005
as the Cherokee County representative. Brocksmith has also
been recognized for his work with the Oklahoma Sierra Club’s
Water Conservation Award.
Former OSRC Chairman
Named Water Pioneer
Chilly weather doesn’t stop visitors from
enjoying the state’s water resources. To accommodate
the needs of off-season visitors, the OSRC has retained
two part-time rangers and a maintenance member on
staff for the winter season. The combined efforts of
these employees maintain the safety and cleanliness of
OSRC properties so visitors may enjoy them year round.
Rangers Dustin Davis and Tanner Hendley patrol
the basin on alternating weekends. Davis, who has been
a seasonal ranger since 2009, works full-time at the
Unted Keetoowah Band Lighthorse patrol, while
Cherokee County Sheriff officer Tanner Hendley started
at the OSRC in 2012. Maintenance staff member Barry
Emmons spends Saturdays and Sundays keeping OSRC
access areas neat. Emmons began working at the
agency in 2008 and has worked part-time throughout
the years to maintain OSRC properties.
Part-time Employees Work Off-season
River Currents Vol Issue
Spotlights in the River Basin
9 Issue 4
The OSRC took a new approach to education
outreach efforts this year. In the
past, the agency has hosted the
Illinois River Festival, bringing a
variety of environmental,
educational, and river-friendly
groups together and inviting the
public to learn from these
organizations as well as show
their appreciation for one of
Oklahoma’s most treasured
scenic rivers. The agency has also
focused education outreach
efforts on engaging elementary
school students with local water
resources and conservation
information. For this Riverfest,
the agency combined these two
efforts, focusing on providing
environmental education to a
multitude of area students.
The Riverfest was held
Tuesday, October 9th, at War Eagle
Resort, whose owners opened up
the campgrounds for the event.
Participating schools included
Oaks-Mission, Greasy, Tenkiller,
Greenwood, Heritage, Leach,
Moseley and Cave Springs.
Approximately 500 students,
ranging from 2nd – 5th grade,
were in attendance. The young
students were full of energy and
eager to learn about the
Over 20 booths were set-up
by various organizations and
groups, each offering students
different information and activities
to teach them about their river
environment. The Oklahoma
Highway Patrol covered river
safety, informing students about
the importance of life jackets. The
environmental arms of Cherokee
Nation and the United Keetoowah
Band were both in attendance,
teaching students about recycling
and the necessity of conserving
Oklahoma’s water resources. Many organizations offered
fun activities to engage the
students with the environment,
such as the the United States
Geological Survey’s (USGS)
enviro-jeopardy game. Illinois
Jones also made an appearance
at the event.
Several familiar faces
joined the OSRC at the event,
including the Department of
Environmental Quality (DEQ), the
Tahlequah Rock and Mineral
Society and U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Services. There were also
several new groups participating
in the event for the first time,
including Ag in the Classroom,
the Oklahoma Water
(OWEA), the Oklahoma
Aquarium, and the Metropolitan
Environmental Trust (MET).
The OSRC set up 4
different booths at the event.
Administrator Ed Fite and
Maintenance Supervisor James
Hickman distributed information
about the agency as well as
goodies for students. Rock
painting was offered by
Administrative Manager Cheryl
Allen, allowing students to take
part of the river home with
them. An aluminum can toss
game designed to teach students
the ease of recycling was also
offered, run by maintenance staff
Josh Baird and Charlie Thurber.
Education Outreach Coordinator
Cassandra Carter gave a
“frogology” talk to students,
teaching them about frog biology
and the importance of biological
The event was a great
success. Both students and
educators enjoyed the festival
and look forward to next year’s.
Illinois River Festival Held for Local Students
OWEA demonstrates to students how every-day
actions can affect water resources.
USGS engages students in a Jeopardy style
quiz to teach them about the environment.
OSRC employees made a game of recycling
aluminum cans with students.
River Currents Vol Issue
9 Issue 1 4
on the W ild Side....
The Belted Kingfisher is a distinctive, conspicuous
bird commonly seen in the Illinois River basin. The Belted
Kingfisher is one of the only three Kingfisher species in
the United States, and is the only member of the Kingfisher
family in Oklahoma.
A medium-sized bird, the Belted Kingfisher
reaches between 4 to 6 ounces in weight and 11 to 14
inches in length; their wingspan can reach anywhere
between 19 and 23 inches. Belted Kingfishers have a
distinctive shape, accented by its shaggy, spiked crest.Adult
females are slightly larger than adult males.
In a reverse of display of many birds, adult females
are also more brightly colored than adult males. Both sexes
are primarily slate blue with a white collar and white chest.
Females also have a rufous, or rust-colored, band which
stretches across their white bellies. The coloring of juvenile
birds is similar to that of adults, though both juvenile sexes
have a rufous band.
The life cycle of a Belted
Kingfisher begins not in a nest high
above the ground, but in a tunnel
below it. Male and female birds dig
tunnels up to eight feet long, and then
lay their eggs. Swallows sometimes
share these tunnels. After hatching,
offspring remain with their parents for
about three weeks, learning to fly and
fish on their own before leaving the
nest. Belted Kingfishers are solitary
creatures, seeking other birds only
during nesting and mating seasons.
The diet of a Belted Kingfisher
is based on small fish like minnow,
though it is also known to eat insects,
crayfish, and even small
amphibians.Once a Kingfisher spots
a fish swimming near the river’s
surface, it descends from its perch to
capture its prey. The Kingfisher dives
into the water to scoop its meal from
the shallows, then flies the catch back
to its tree. The Kingfisher then beats its catch on a tree limb, throws it in the air, and swallows it whole. Later, the
Kingfisher regurgitates a pellet full of the fish’s indigestible material. The Kingfisher’s eating habits can benefit anglers
by ridding the river of smaller fish. This lessens competition and allows remaining fish to grow larger. If the Belted
Kingfisher is near a fish hatchery, however, the bird can be a nuisance.
The Belted Kingfisher is less sensitive than other species that depend on water for food. The National Audubon
Society notes the resilience the species displayed before the ban on DDT, a pesticide that proved harmful to several
other animals. The Audubon Society’s Seattle branch relates the Belted Kingfisher’s insensitivity to the fact that their
diet is centered on very small fish.
If you make a trip down to the Illinois River, you’re likely to hear the Belted Kingfisher’s rattling call.
Belted Kingfisher Rules Along the River
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