TAHLEQUAH — Editor, Daily Press:
I have no doubt that lives were saved because of floating restrictions over Memorial Day Weekend. I commend [Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Administrator] Ed Fite for speaking on behalf of all those people who would have been at risk on the river.
I live on the river now and have all my life, and no one knows it better. The private canoes, rafts and kayaks that passed my house Memorial Day weekend went by at alarming speed, at least three times faster than normal. I cannot believe the float companies would say it was safe.
True, the majority of people would have been all right. Experienced floaters would likely know how to extract themselves safely from overturns and other accidents. But the murky water, and the loss of water clarity, can conceal hidden debris. A capsized boat washed against brush in swift water can trap people, even if they are wearing vests – and most do not.
Judgment is also impaired by excessive drinking and reckless behavior, now the norm on any weekend, but more extreme on three-day holidays. Float companies wanted to make money, period. The river wasn’t safe. Tahlequah’s tourist industry was protected, not hurt. Drownings and accidents aren’t great publicity.
One would think, listening to the float company rhetoric, that Tahlequah is dependent on the income they generate. Not too long ago, I watched families, scouting troops, church and reunion groups float the river regularly. All were quiet and respectful of their surroundings.
Those days are gone. Today, I see island of rafts full of people yelling, drinking, throwing cans and trash in the river, going to the bathroom wherever they want, even playing boom boxes (which aren’t allowed).
As the river declines in the very properties that once made it so desirable, so will the type of tourists it attracts. I believe there are people alive today because Ed Fite was willing to stand up to the float companies and those would risk lives to make a dollar.