Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science Anne Castle dedicated Oklahoma’s Blue River on September 21st as an “America’s Great Outdoors” river project.
Castle joined representatives of Chickasaw National Recreation Area, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Chickasaw Nation in planting a 12-foot native burr oak on the edge of a riverside meadow in the conservancy’s Oka’ Yanahli Blue River Preserve in south-central Oklahoma.
The 141-mile river, one of the state’s few remaining free-flowing streams, is a project in President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative. The program seeks to set a community-driven conservation and recreation agenda for the 21st century by encouraging projects that reconnect people with nature and strengthen local economies through outdoor recreation and tourism.
Other speakers included Joy Nicholopoulos, Fish and Wildlife’s Southwest Region deputy director; Jay Pruett, director of conservation for the Oklahoma chapter of The Nature Conservancy; Jona Tucker, director of the conservancy’s Pontotoc Ridge Preserve; Stephen Greetham, chief general counsel to the Chickasaw Nation Division of Commerce and the tribe’s special counsel on water and natural resources, and Amy Ford, president of Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer.
The Blue River project is part of the America’s Great Outdoors Rivers Initiative, which aims to enhance waters for recreation and stream restoration with federal agency support of community conservation. Three Interior bureaus are involved: the Park Service (Chickasaw National Recreation Area), Fish and Wildlife Service (Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge) and U.S. Geological Survey (Oklahoma Water Science Center).
Outdoors enthusiasts enjoy abundant opportunities on the Blue River, including fishing, kayaking, canoeing, camping, hunting and hiking. Besides focusing the river’s recreational and tourism qualities, the project envisions watershed-protection measures to benefit natural resources at Chickasaw, Tishomingo and the Blue River Wildlife Management Area.
“We look forward to continuing the conversation with Oklahomans, as the stakeholders in the Blue River, about the common goals we all share in enjoying and preserving this important resource,” said Bruce Noble, Oklahoma state coordinator for the Park Service and superintendent of Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Under America’s Great Outdoors, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has highlighted 101 projects in all 50 states and the District of Columbia as among the nation’s best investments in healthy, active recreation, conservation of working lands and wildlife, and job creation in travel, tourism and outdoor recreation. The Blue River is one of 51 streams identified as community models for greater recreation, job growth and river quality improvement.
The Outdoor Industry Association estimates outdoor recreational activities including hiking, camping, and fishing contribute $646 billion to the U.S. economy and support more than 6 million jobs.