Officials from Grand River Dam Authority and City of Siloam Springs announced today a collaboration to build a new whitewater park on the Oklahoma and Arkansas border. Philanthropic support from the Walton Family Foundation provided funding for the design and construction of the park. The unveiling of plans for the “WOKA Whitewater Park” coincides with the beginning of construction located at the old spillway of Lake Frances on the Upper Illinois River in Oklahoma. The main attraction features an approximate 1,200-foot long, 100-foot wide side channel off the river with eight drop-features to provide low-hazard recreation for well-equipped, responsible wave action for kayakers, surfers and tubers of all skill levels. Construction completion is expected in 2023.
“Travel and tourism are core drivers for Oklahoma’s economy. WOKA will be a great addition to make that impact even bigger and this project is another great investment in making Oklahoma a Top Ten state,” said Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. “WOKA will showcase Oklahoma’s beautiful landscape, nestled on the Illinois River at the Oklahoma and Arkansas border, and it will attract thousands of visitors each year from Oklahoma as well as across the region. As governor, I want to congratulate our state agency, GRDA, on its successful oversight and collaboration to build Oklahoma’s newest tourism asset.”
“This innovative partnership of Siloam Springs, The Walton Family Foundation, the Grand River Dam Authority and states of Oklahoma and Arkansas demonstrates the possibilities with non-profits and public sectors combine resources,” said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “WOKA will entertain Arkansans, attract visitors from other states and encourage people to enjoy the natural beauty of the outdoors. Thanks to the leaders and partners who shared this dream and are working so hard to bring it to life.”
“Together, GRDA, the Walton Family Foundation and the City of Siloam Springs, are building a best-in-class whitewater park that will attract thousands of visitors each year to the region,” said GRDA CEO and President Daniel Sullivan. “Whitewater parks attract enthusiasts that travel long distances to safely access and enjoy a multi-day experience,” said Sullivan. “Research shows expenditures include trip-related lodging, recreational equipment and supplies, food and entertainment. The WOKA Whitewater Park will bring an economic stimulus to a rural region and will become another significant tourism asset for both Oklahoma and Arkansas.”
GRDA will oversee and manage the park, which forecasts 85,000 visitors annually with an estimated annual economic impact of $900,000. Park activities will include kayaking, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), tubing and rafting. Additional visitor amenities will include waterfront, shaded spectator seating, rental services, parking, trail system, public restrooms, and course put in and take outs. The whitewater park’s name, WOKA, is formed from a combination of the words: water, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The 30-acre park falls within the Oklahoma border and inside the reservation boundaries of the Cherokee Nation.
“Surrounded by the Illinois River and the Ozark Mountains, WOKA perfectly defines the native beauty America’s Heartland has to offer,” said Jim Walton, Walton Family Foundation. “This national-caliber park will preserve access to nature for generations and unlock economic opportunity by attracting visitors looking for unique outdoor experiences.”
The City of Siloam Springs operates another waterpark eight miles upstream which served as the inspiration for WOKA. In support of the project, the City of Siloam Springs deeded 17.25 acres to GRDA from the Siloam Springs Water Resource Company and will further partner to reinforce the existing dam which supplies water to Siloam Springs from upstream. Materials repurposed from the whitewater course construction will be used to create a “stair-step” dam that will also mitigate hydraulic conditions and dangerous currents. A 404 Clean Water Act permit required to begin the project was filed in 2018 and approved on March 17, 2020, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Protecting the city’s water supply and enhancing conservation efforts makes this collaboration ideal for the City of Siloam Springs,” said Mayor John Mark Turner. “We have experienced the success of drawing visitors to Siloam Springs with our kayak park. Locating a second whitewater park in the region will work in tandem and complement each other to leverage these attractions to the success of both.”
Since March 2018, GRDA has worked with the engineering firm McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group – A Division of Merrick & Company to design the park’s land and water features. Crossland Construction Company was selected as the builder. Philanthropy from the Walton Family Foundation supports 95% of the $33 million construction cost for the WOKA Whitewater Park.
“As the oversight organization for the Scenic Rivers in Oklahoma, this project combines two of GRDA’s core objectives of being good environmental stewards and pursuing economic development opportunities to benefit our municipal partners and customers,” Sullivan said.
Interested whitewater park fans may sign up to receive quarterly construction updates at www.VisitWOKA.com and follow the progress of the project @VisitWOKA on Facebook and Instagram.