Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission
Volume 10 Issue 2 July 2013
Dr. Riley Needham
Archie “Trey” Peyton, III
The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act and Recreation
At this week’s regular business meeting, I showed a PowerPoint presentation
containing an array of some 150 photos suggesting that recreation is absolutely the biggest
demand of the agency’s time and budget, particularly in the areas of law enforcement, trash
abatement and providing the public with access to these special waters. Yet, at its conclusion,
I couldn’t help but get on my soapbox once again about the irony we are dealing with stemming
from the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act of 1970 and the sections added in 1977 which created
the present day Commission.
In the ‘77 additions, the legislature specifically tasked the agency to deal with several
functions of and issues affecting scenic rivers. Recreation, however, isn’t mentioned.
“The Legislature finds that the protection and development of the state's scenic river
areas and adjacent and contiguous lands and quality of outstanding resource waters included
within each Commission's operating area should be provided for by properly planned and executed
rules promulgated by that Commission respecting public services, land use, occupancy, structures,
lot and plot sizes, density of population and other activities as required for the proper protection
of the aesthetic, scenic, historic, archeologic and scientific features of the said affected areas,
or deemed necessary for the protection of the ecosystem and the environment from pollution,
despoliation and destruction or waste of natural resources and all other factors adversely affecting
the public health, safety and the general welfare so long as the rules comply with the exempt
provisions of the Scenic Rivers Act pertaining to farming, ranching, forestry, silviculture and
other agricultural uses.”
Here are the annual statistics about recreation on the Illinois River:
• 500,000 individuals visit the Illinois River, Flint Creek or Barren Fork Creek;
• 200,000 individuals boat on the Illinois River, Flint Creek or Barren Fork Creek;
Commercial Floating of the Illinois River contributes $15 million to the overall economy of
• Anglers, hunters and wildlife viewers spend $1.3 billion in our state which creates
$696 million in salaries and supporting 28,142 jobs;
• Fish and wildlife related recreation is estimated to
have an overall economic impact of $2.3 billion; and,
• Annual tax revenue by recreation in our state
contributes in excess $950 million in federal, state and local
While the word recreation is barely mentioned in
the Scenic Rivers Act that was passed 43 years ago, I was
encouraged when Commissioners resolved at this week’s
meeting to explore its importance and impact on our state’s
future efforts to protect scenic rivers. Governor Mary Fallin’s
recent appointment of Deby Snodgrass as Cabinet Secretary
for Oklahoma’s new Tourism Cabinet is also promising
news. Perhaps Deby may help the OSRC take the next step?
Saturday, July 13th Illinois River between Eagle
Bluff and Peyton’s Place.
River Currents Vol 10 Issue 2
OSRC Board and Agency News
Children’s Creek Program
Summer school is now in session. As the OSRC’s Education Out-reach
Coordinator, I have had the opportunity to hold creek programs for
a few local elementary summer schools. The goal of creek programs is to
teach students about the diversity of biological life in Oklahoma’s scenic
streams and emphasize the importance of clean water.
During these programs, I teach students about different aquatic
insects that can be found in creeks and explain how these water bugs can
be used to study water quality. After showing the students examples of
the insects they could find, I take small groups to the creek and help them
collect their own aquatic insect samples.
The students are then able to observe their samples under small
microscopes. Some insects found at recent programs include caddisflies,
stoneflies, and water pennies. Several students also caught
crawdads. Crawdads are a pollutant resist-ent
species and can be found in water of
varying qualities, but they were exciting
animals for students to catch and served as
excellent reminders of why preserving habi-tats
The creek program is a fun
educational exercise for young students and
can be held at the Murrell Home or the creek
behind the Armory Municipal Center in
Tahlequah. If you would like to schedule a
program or check out the materials to hold
your own, contact the OSRC at 918-456-
James Hickman, Maintenance Supervisor
Illinois River Clean-up
Join the OSRC, Illinois River commercial
float operations, and your fellow river
friends on Friday, September 6th. Sign up
by calling 918-456-3251. See you there!
OSRC Silent Auction
The OSRC is currently coordinating with
Save the Illinois River to hold a silent
auction to fund portable bathrooms on the
Illinois River. If you are interested in
donating an item, give us a call or e-mail
information will be avaliable soon!
James Hickman has been
a dedicated member of the
OSRC staff for the past 25
years. His genuine love of the
Illinois River and the agency as
well as his diligent work ethic
have made him an irreplace-able
member of the scenic riv-ers
James was born in 1940.
He lived in Tahlequah all his
life, growing up along the
banks of the Illinois River and
Barren Fork Creek. After
graduating high school, he served two years in the US Army.
James joined the OSRC the summer of 1988. He was
cleaning up cans underneath Combs Bridge when he met
Administrator Ed Fite, who thanked him for picking up the river and
encouraged him to apply for a seasonal position. The next day, James
picked up his application.
He began working on the float crew, floating an 8 mile stretch
of river each day and removing debris from the river. In 1990, he
joined the maintenance crew. A year later, he was promoted to a
full time maintenance position.
James was named Maintenance Supervisor in 2008. His
duties include overseeing maintenance of public access areas and
managing permanent and seasonal maintenance staff members.
At 73, James is still an energetic and active individual. He
can still be seen driving the mower around the agency and working
hard along gravel bars.
Cassandra Carter, Education Outreach Coordinator
Peggs students collecting aquatic insect
samples at Murrell Home Creek.
River Currents Vol 10 Issue 2
Spotlights in the River Basin
Illinois River Hiking Trails
A view from Sparrow Hawk Mountain, taken by
adventure author Gary D. Courtney.
Hiking is a fun activity that can strengthen the body and
lighten the heart. Oklahoma’s scenic rivers provide breath-taking
backdrops for hikers to enjoy. There are two hiking
areas near the Illinois River for visitors to explore.
The J.T. Nickel Preserve is a 17,000 acre nature
and wildlife conservancy with 3 hiking trails.
There are 2 hiking trails 1.5 miles long
located at the preserve headquarters. Hikers can
walk the trails individually or walk both of them
for a 3 mile hike. Another half-mile trail is
located around the wetlands area.
Visitors may see elk or other wildlife on
their hike. The trails are open 7 days a week
during daylight hours.
Directions to the preserve can be found
here. For questions, contact the preserve at 918-
Sparrow Hawk Primitive Area Trail
The primitive trail is a one mile trail winding up Sparrow
Hawk Mountain. This trek is a great opportuniy for visitors
who enjoy hiking for exercise.
The trail is surrounded by flourishing woods. At
the top of the trail is a clearing with a gorgeous view of the
Illinois River. It is a great place for picnicking, birdwatching,
taking photographs, or simply enjoying the scenic beauty
of the Illinois.
This area is Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Con-servation
land. The ODWC has a policy that visi-tors
on their land must purchase a hunting or fish-ing
license or a wildlife passport. For more infor-mation
on this policy, contact a game warden.
J.T. Nickel Nature Conservancy Trail
Advocacy Group Cleans Up
Save the Illinois River (STIR) is a volunteer organization to raise aware-ness
of and support for the Illinois River. The group held a clean-up of the
Sequoyah City Park creek in Tahlequah in celebration of Earth Day. Several
volunteers participated to remove hundreds of pounds of trash from the creek,
including an armoire found under the Keetoowah bridge.
STIR plans to hold more creek and stream clean-ups throughout the
summer. The next event is tentatively scheduled to take place after the July
Anyone interested in participated in any of their upcoming clean-ups
or in joining STIR can visit the organization’s webpage, www.illinoisriver.org.
Photo of one of the J.T. Nickel Preserve trails. Photo courtesy
River Currents Vol 10 Issue 2
Photo of leopard darter, courtesy U.S. Fish
A longnose darter swimming in a creek. Photo
courtesy Konrad Schmidt.
on the W ild Side....
The leopard darter is federally listed as a
threatened species. These darters can be found in the
scenic Mountain Fork River.
Populations of leopard darters
only occur in two other waters:
the Little River above Pine Creek
Reservoir and in the Glover
River. The Oklahoma Depart-ment
of Wildlife Conservation
reports that historically these
populations were larger.
The primary threat to
the leopard darter is loss of
habitat due to construction.
Flows, depths and temper
atures have been altered by
construction and no longer pro-vide
a sustainable habitat.
The U.S. Fish and Wild-life
Service has stated that the
best plan for species recovery
“primarily involves managing
and protecting [Leopard Darter]
habitat and individual popula-tions
from known threats.”
A threatened specieis,
the leopard darter is likey to be-come
extinct in the future but is
not considered currently “on the
brink” of extinction.
Leopard darters are
named for the dark blotches,
reminiscent of a leopard’s spots,
on each side of their body.
These fish even resemble the
coloring of a leopard, as the rest
of their bodies are a light
Longnose darters are
Oklahoma’s only state listed endangered fish species.
According to the ODWC, it is also one of the state’s rarest
species. These darters can be found in Big Lee Creek and
Little Lee Creek in areas of Adair and Sequoyah counties.
Populations do not occur in any other part of the state,
making the protection of Lee and Little Lee Creek habitat
Darters are small fish that make their homes in healthy creeks and streams. There are many different types of
darters living in Oklahoma’s scenic waters, including two rare species: leopard and longnose darters.
Darter Species Unique to Scenic Rivers
Like leopard darters, longnose darters are
mainlyaffected by construction in their habitat.
Construction of impoundments in
particular is disruptive to longnose
darter habitat as impoundments can
alter water flow and restrict darters
Longnose darters are colorful fish
with yellow bodies and an orange
band. They have small bodies
approximately 2.5 inches in length.
Their heads and snouts are slightly
Leopard and longnose darters
share many similarities with each
other and other species of darters.
Both darters’ diets consist of
aquatic invertebrates. They find their
food living among the rocks at the
bottom of clear, healthy creeks.
Spawning season for both
darters occurs in early spring.
Leopard darters move to riffle
areas for spawning in March and
April, though some may spawn as
early as February. Clutches average
about 65 eggs, which are laid,
fertilized, and buried in gravel. Young
hatch in early May.
Longnose darters follow a
similar biological process. Their
spawning months are April and May.
There are several other darter
species swimming through healthy
Oklahoma creeks and streams which
are also listed as threatened or
endangered. The black-sided darter,
which makes its home in Lee Creek
and Mountain Fork River in Adair
county, is a state listed threatened species. Cherokee and
Delaware county creeks support populations of the Arkan-sas
darter, which is currently being considered for fed-eral
The protection of these types of unique species is
one of the reasons it is so important to preserve the natu-ral
state and quality of Oklahoma’s scenic rivers.
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.