Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

June 29, 2012

Setting up camp

TAHLEQUAH — The Ozark Mountain foothills create endless opportunity for scenic camping, whether its near the banks of the Illinois River or Lake Tenkiller.

So when planning an outing to celebrate a family reunion, holiday or simply being away from work, visitors have the option for rustic tent-style camping, RV hookup or air-conditioned cabins in either location.

With several marina outfits along the 130 miles of Lake Tenkiller’s shoreline without a cabin or camp site to reserve for the nation’s birthday, the abundance of water recreation activities like water skiing, fishing, boating, tubing and scuba diving will be enjoyed by a large number of fresh-water enthusiasts. The camping site of choice when playing on Lake Tenkiller is Cherokee Landing State Park, according to feedback received from a Tahlequah Daily Press Facebook poll question.

The Cookson Hills-located park was noted for its highly-aesthetic surroundings, well-maintenanced grounds and facilities, as well as its options for landside exercise.

Peggs resident Betty Brewer Foreman said she likes the “beautiful grassy areas, well-maintained restrooms, [and] swimming” found at Cherokee Landing.

“I especially like the paved roads,” she said. “No dust and great for running and biking.”

Westville resident Susan Hill-Sanders also appreciates Cherokee Landing’s manicured appearance and proximity to amenities.

“They keep their grass mowed, [it’s] close to a store and [it’s a] great place to just sit back and people watch,” she said.

Cherokee Landing State Park offers RV hookups with electric and water, primitive campsites, covered picnic shelters, restrooms with showers, a lighted boat ramp, a swimming beach, an accessible fishing dock, playgrounds, a softball field, water skiing and fishing. Scuba diving enthusiasts also visit the park to enjoy the clear waters that go as deep as 28 feet.

Though DiamondHead Resort, Eagle Bluff Resort, and Hanging Rock Camp all received high praise and noted appreciation for friendly staff, great swimming areas and clean facilities when enjoying the Illinois River, Sparrow Hawk Camp was given the nod as a leading campground for the available space for camping and RV hookups, as well as the structured and regulated conditions visitors must honor when enjoying the river on the banks of Sparrow Hawk Camp.

New owner Gene Ellis Jr. said after providing security at Sparrow Hawk Camp for 15 years, he’s familiar with what visitors are looking for when they visit the Illinois River, and he and his family plan to continue the family-friendly conditions that the late and former owner Scott “River Rat” Anderson established six years ago when purchasing the float company.

“If you look back at all the people being arrested over the years, you can see our numbers are real low. We don’t have the fighting [problem here],” said Ellis.

“We do allow people to drink and have a good time, but we just ask that they obey the rules. When we have quiet time, we enforce it. We consider this a family campground. We do have some college[-aged visitors], but we don’t have frat parties and stuff like that here. We consider this more of a family-oriented campground.”

Ellis said Sparrow Hawk Camp has over 40 acres of primitive camping and roughly 65 RV sites with water and electric hookup.

“We’re having a River Rat Festival next weekend [July 6-7] that’s going to be in memory of [former owner] Scott [Anderson],” he said. “He was known as River Rat. We’re trying to build this up to where maybe in five maybe 10 years we’ll have enough money to be able to grow this thing where we could donate five, 10, or 15,000 dollars to cancer [research].”

Ellis said the festival will include kareoke and live music will be provided, as well as various competitions like sand volleyball, horseshoes, and mud-pit tug of war.

A stage is being constructed for the live music, which is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m., July 6, while Saturday will include a 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. show that will be followed by a fireworks display.

Tahlequah-resident James Bailey credits Sparrow Hawk Camp for its mile-long riverfront.

“It has the most water front,” he said.

John Ellis gave praise to Sparrow Hawk Camp’s facilities, offering modern campsites with restrooms, showers and electrical hookups and rustic campsites that offer picnic tables and trash receptacles.

“Great campgrounds,” said the Tahlequah resident. “[The] water is nice and clear. If you[’ve] never been, you should go and try it out.”

Shelly Thomas Fallen commended the “good people” of Sparrow Hawk Camp as her reasoning for raising the float company above the rest.

“[It’s a] great swimming place for all ages,” she said.

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