By TEDDYE SNELL
Next weekend is Memorial Day, marking the beginning of the summer recreation season.
Thousands of visitors flock to Cherokee County during the summer months to enjoy camping and water sports at the Illinois River or Lake Tenkiller. As such, area outfitters are gearing up for a busy Memorial Day weekend.
Barbara Kelly, co-owner of Diamondhead Resort on the Illinois River, said they have already begun offering float trips seven days per week.
“We’re looking forward to a great Memorial Day weekend,” said Kelly. “I was sold out for the holiday before we even got started this season. The hotel is sold out, every bunk is filled, and we’re excited. This has the makings for a record-breaking Memorial Day weekend for us.”
Diamondhead is known for offering floating in canoes, rafts and kayaks, and they feature live entertainment, too. Memorial Day weekend, Diamondhead will host the Purple Traders on Friday, May 24, and Red Eye Gravy, Saturday, May 25.
Recent rainfall has created ideal floating conditions, according to Kelly.
“The river’s a little above normal right now, but it’s running great,” she said. “I’m getting ready to get out there and float myself.”
At Diamondhead, no child under the age of 2 is allowed to float. Children under age 6 must be in a raft, older children may float in canoes.
Also, a new law requires all coolers be equipped with a locking system, or they must be secured with a bungee-type cord. The new law helps cut down on litter when coolers are tipped over in the water. Beverages containing 3.2 percent or less alcohol are also permitted; but regulations prevent glass or Styrofoam on streambeds on or the river.
Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Education Outreach Coordinator Cassandra Carter said the crew at OSRC Headquarters is gearing up for a busy season.
“We’re now open on the weekends, so visitors can stop by on Saturday and Sunday to get information about camping or floating,” said Carter. “We’ve added extra seasonal maintenance personnel and rangers. We’re as ready as we can be.”
Visitors are invited to use the public access areas along the Illinois River, including Round Hollow, Stunkard, Buck Ford, Peavine, Ed Edmondson, No Head Hollow Todd and Echota. Camping fees are $12 per night, and fees are collected daily by OSRC staff. Alcohol of any kind is prohibited at Round Hollow, Todd and the U.S. 62 Bridge public access areas.
“The river is in good shape for the Memorial Day weekend,” said Carter. “We hope everyone has a responsible good time.”
Those visiting the river should be mindful of a few safety tips, according to OSRC Administrator Ed Fite. Fite recommends always wearing life preservers, protective footwear and other suitable clothing.
“Never swim or boat alone, and stay within sight of your companions,” said Fite. “Do not dive from trees, rocks, bridges or bluffs, and pack thirst-quenching drinks like water and lemonade. Alcohol impairs a person’s judgment. And please, pack out what you pack in to preserve the beauty of our scenic river.”
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