Rowing on the   River


Growing Boathouse District Offers Dozens of Fun Options for All Ages

To paraphrase musician Paul Simon, many adventurous Oklahoma City folk are “zip-sliding away” these days, enjoying one of more than a dozen fitness and adventure opportunities, courtesy of the Oklahoma City Boathouse District’s Riversport Rapids and Adventures.

In slightly more than 10 years, what began as a single boathouse on the Oklahoma River has grown into a massive complex that’s home to a lengthy list of outdoor sports venues–everything from kayaking, rowing, dragon boating, paddle boating and whitewater rafting to zip lines, an 80-foot “Sky Trail,” free-fall and tandem racing slides, rope courses, climbing walls, bicycle and jogging trails, pump tracks, BMX skateboard tracks and more. The list goes on and on, with more activities being added all the time, especially after this spring’s completion of a new $45 million whitewater rafting and kayaking center.

Don’t have the equipment to take part? The district rents bicycles, skateboards, helmets and other equipment. Feel hungry or thirsty afterward? Step into the full-service restaurant, the Big Water Grill.

Central Oklahoma residents are some of the most sedentary in the nation, and the district’s employees are dedicated to changing this fact in a positive way.

“OUR CORE MISSION IS TO HELP THE COMMUNITY STAY ACTIVE AND HAVE OUTDOOR THINGS TO DO, AND TO HELP PEOPLE GET OUT OF THEIR COMFORT ZONE IN A HEALTHY WAY,” SAID GREG NEWBY, PUBLIC RELATIONS COORDINATOR. “A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE WORRIED THAT THEY HAVE TO BE HARD-CORE ATHLETES TO COME HERE, WHICH ISN’T THE CASE. OUR STAFF IS WELL TRAINED TO DEAL WITH PEOPLE’S RESERVATIONS AND ALLEVIATE THEIR CONCERNS.”

Getting the word out about the full spectrum of activities available remains a challenge, he added. “Most of the locals have only heard about our rowing or rapids or maybe the zip line; they don’t know everything else we have. And most out-of-town visitors are surprised we’re here in the first place.”

No one should rule out a visit to the Boathouse District, even if they’re a dedicated couch potato or on a tight budget, Newby said. There is no general admission fee, so visitors can walk around and view all the attractions without having to make a financial commitment. Lots of features, such as the bicycling trails, are free. Many who think they’re not interested or not in good enough shape to take part change their minds once they see others in action, he said.

Most of the Boathouse District’s attractions are closed during the winter months, but visitors can still get their adrenaline rush through two of its most popular options. The SandRidge Sky Trail is the tallest adventure course of its kind in the world. Secure in a safety harness, participants scale the 80-foot structure to complete six levels of challenges–rope bridges, balance beams, zigzag elements and more–which increase in difficulty the higher you climb. Also remaining open is the zip line adventure, offering a heart-pounding 700-foot slide across the river. Both are open on weekends, and will be available Friday through Sunday after Thanksgiving, providing a major opportunity to work off that holiday feast. The whitewater feature is typically closed, but groups of 18 or larger can arrange a cold-water rafting session. Season passes for 2017 also go on sale in November and are popular as a Christmas gift, Newby said.

Conveniently located at the I-35 and I-40 junction, within walking distance of the Bricktown Entertainment District, the Boathouse District is another shining example of the success of Oklahoma City’s multi-phase MAPS development project. The entire initiative became possible through a $53 million project which that converted the dry riverbed of the North Canadian River into a permanent 7-mile, dam-controlled stretch of waterway that was renamed the Oklahoma River in 2004.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. built the original boathouse as a way to support collegiate rowing teams. Since its completion, the site has become the official headquarters of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympics rowing teams, with specialized facilities that allow these athletes to work out year-round. This past summer Olympic rowing trials were held here, with three qualifying athletes going on to compete in Rio de Janeiro.

The district hosts two major events each year–a Stars & Stripes Fourth of July festival and the Oklahoma Regatta, held the first weekend in October. Multiple smaller competitions and festivals are ongoing throughout the year, primarily in the spring, summer and fall.

Once the weather gets warmer, anyone who doesn’t already have a fitness buddy may want to check into the weekly “Riversport Ride” novice bicycling group or the OKC Landrunners, who meet on Tuesday evenings. Both groups are free, with members encompassing all ages and all fitness levels. Corporate team-building exercises, especially “dragon boating,” also are very popular, Newby said.

More information about the district and its extensive programs is available on its Facebook page and website, boathousedistrict.org. Specific questions can be addressed via email, info@riversportokc.org.