By TEDDYE SNELL
Visitors to the Illinois River next summer may find relief more available when nature calls.
Save The Illinois River Inc. recently helped raise money to fund the maintenance and addition of portable toilets in the watershed.
The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission is responsible for contracting to maintain the facilities, and due to budget cuts in recent years, has had a difficult time making ends meet.
OSRC Administrator Ed Fite knows providing proper facilities is key to keeping the river and its tributaries clean.
“If the toilets aren’t stationed close to the water, people will not use them,” said Fite. “It’s a proven fact. We need more of them and to put them closer to the river.”
STIR members banded together, setting a goal of $8,000 for portable toilets.
According to STIR President Denise Deason-Toyne, $10,000 has been pledged by corporate, private and nonprofit sources, allowing the OSRC to contract for the restrooms in public use areas along the river.
“The portable toilet perfectly fits STIR’s mission to protect and preserve the Illinois River and Tenkiller Lake,” said Deason-Toyne. “It’s gratifying to see these diverse entities pull together to protect one of Oklahoma’s most valuable natural resources. Thousands of visitors come to the river and lake each summer. These facilities help protect public health and water quality.”
STIR, Reasor’s and the Cherokee Nation each pledged $2,000 for the toilets. A silent auction at STIR’s annual membership meeting, held Sept. 22, along with contributions from STIR “angels” put the project well over its goal.
A shortage of state funds threatened to curtail the portable toilet facilities next year. This year, eight toilets were placed along the river and were maintained by a private contractor at an approximate cost of $8,000.
OSRC Education Outreach Coordinator Cassandra Carter was thrilled at the response to the fundraisers.
“I would like to give a special thanks to [STIR President] Denise Deason-Toyne, [Vice President] Barb Daily, [member] Nancy Garber and [Treasurer] Ed Brocksmith,” said Carter.
“They donated items and helped us gather several amazing donations. The OSRC could not have accomplished this success without STIR. We are grateful and proud to have STIR as such strong supporters.”
In a report on conservation efforts in the Illinois River watershed, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission said portable restrooms are essential so visitors have minimal impact on the river corridor.
“OSRC maintenance of these facilities ensures that human waste is captured at these facilities ensures that human waste is captured at these facilities and then sent to a permitted waste facility for processing,” said Fite. “This treatment reduces total phosphorus concentrations in the waste from approximately 4,500 milligrams per liter to less than 1 milligram, based on the City of Tahlequah permit limits.”
For more information about STIR and Illinois River watershed protection, visit www.illinoisriver.org.