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'People are finding ways to get out and have fun': Water levels remain high, but holiday weekend will carry on at area lakes

The lakes should be going down as the fireworks will be shooting up this holiday weekend in Green Country.

Independence Day this year is marked by continued high lake levels, with many public boat ramps and campgrounds still closed — and submerged — but Oklahomans are finding ways to enjoy the lakes any way they can.

Officials continued to urge caution when approaching lakes that remain in flood stage due to debris and hidden obstacles under water, especially near shore.

Most major lakes remain in flood stage but are slowly dropping. The general advice is to call parks, marinas and other lakeside businesses before you go, or check websites or Facebook pages for last-minute announcements.

Ingenuity has helped some businesses.

At Keystone Harbor Marina, they’ve kept things going by having clients park at the former site of Phelp’s grocery store in Mannford. Then they take a shuttle bus to a spot where they can hop on a pontoon boat and get a ride to the marina and restaurant.

“We’re partnering with Pier 51 Marina and we announced we’re having fireworks for three nights, the 4th, 5th and 6th,” said employee Alyssa Stewart.

The marina was closed for two weeks because power was shut off during the worst of the floods, but owners and staff have figured out ways to keep things going otherwise. They might even have a temporary road opened for the weekend, Stewart said.

“I’ve been a little shocked how busy it’s actually been,” she said. “People still want to get out and they just find a way to do it.”

Keystone State Park Manager Chad McCall said visitation is slower at the park and around the lake because beach and boat-ramp access are closed, but camping areas and other amenities still are open.

“People still want to take advantage of any opportunity to get outside,” he said.

Beth Ryan, owner of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort, announced the holiday weekend will be the last of the season for the popular outdoor recreation spot at Keystone.

The resort typically has a large RV park and campground, giant floating playground on the lake and swimming pools with a water slide, pavilions and cabins for rent. Since Memorial Day, only limited camping has been available and only the swimming pool and water slide have been open.

“We are very sad to say that due to the high lake levels we are not able to continue to remain open this season,” the Facebook post read.

The only open campgrounds under the supervision of Fort Gibson Lake manager Jonathan Polk are not on the lake. The Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake manager also oversees campgrounds on the Verdigris River Navigation Channel.

“Everything is closed except Bluff Landing on East 71st Street in Broken Arrow,” he said.

“Right now it looks like the lake might be getting down closer to normal levels by the end of July, weather permitting,” he said. “It’s just kind of a predicament, but everyone around the lake understands what’s going on. We flooded three years in a row, except last summer,” he said. “What’s different is it usually doesn’t last this long.”

Sequoyah State Park and Sequoyah Lodge and the nature center are open at Fort Gibson. The nature center plans a 40th birthday celebration for Taurus, the bald eagle, on Saturday.

Some of the area is still under water but nine of the golf course holes are open for play.

Tenkiller Lake was later to join the ranks of severely flooded reservoirs this summer. But it shot up to 30 feet above normal at the end of June and people are making do for the holiday, said Les Pulliam, manager for Tenkiller and Cherokee Landing state parks.

Cherokee Landing was closed early this week but may be partially open for the weekend, he said. The front half of Tenkiller State Park is open and it will be the site for the annual Greater Tenkiller Area Association’s fireworks display at dusk on Thursday, he said.

“Thirty feet of water is almost normal every year now at some point, which is kind sad,” Pulliam said.

Elk Creek Resort was hit by a tornado that swept over the lake this winter. The owners caught up with repairs just as the waters started to rise, said owner Beth Smither. The resort is open, but only for marina clients or people who book rooms.

“Like everyone else we just don’t have extra places for people to park,” she said. “We’ve had a rough five years. This is the sixth major flood in that time, and throw in a tornado in the middle of that. We’ve been trying to put in all kinds of new things and expand, but it’s hard to do with the water the way it’s been.”

The picture is growing brighter for the holiday at Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, where the water level has remained high but is steady and clearing. Public boat ramps are closed, but several marinas offer boat ramp service for $6 to $10.

Bernice State Park’s nature center will be open for the weekend. The park entrance is flooded but alternate parking is available.

Alicia Hampton, executive assistant at Arrowhead Marina, said the annual fireworks show will be bigger this year and will feature a flyover with F-16s.

“The water is going down and the debris is clearing up nicely, so we’re good,” she said. “There have been a lot of people on the lake. Some ramps are closed but people are finding ways to get out and have fun.”

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Ribbon cut to celebrate 'Route 66 Rising' sculpture at Avery Traffic Circle in Tulsa

Go big or go home. Ultimately, that is the message behind a new sculpture on Route 66. In fact, its installation is a part of a larger effort to increase economic development projects along the historic highway.

The “Route 66 Rising” sculpture was unveiled Tuesday at its permanent home at the Avery Traffic Circle, at Admiral Place and Mingo Road. The sculpture is approximately 70 feet wide and 30 feet high.

“We are doing a lot of work on Route 66 right now, and that’s after decades of under-investment,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said. “But now I think everyone in the community has woken up to the opportunities that are presented by drawing people from all around the world.”

Shortly before the dedication, Bynum introduced speakers Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell and Joy Avery, granddaughter of Cyrus Avery — also known as “The Father of Route 66” — for whom the traffic circle has been named.

City councilors, county commissioners and other members of the community who have worked on developing Route 66 were also in attendance.

The intersection of Admiral Place and Mingo Road, where the statue has been placed, is on the original 1926-1932 alignment of Route 66.

During the planning stages of Route 66 as a national highway, Cyrus Avery lived in Tulsa and was an integral part of its construction. He was influential in bringing the highway, including a bridge across the Arkansas River, through Tulsa.

Among other transformational projects, Bynum said, Avery’s involvement with Route 66 is just one example of how his efforts helped develop the Tulsa area.

Pinnell said that over the next four years more plans to encourage tourism and economic development along the Route 66 corridor will be put into action.

“Route 66 is an economic development engine in the city of Tulsa,” Pinnell said. “Now is the time to take advantage of this great resource.”

With hopes of gaining more support for Route 66’s development, Pinnell announced that the inaugural Route 66 stakeholder convention will be held the first Tuesday in December.

Pinnell said a delegation will represent the city of Tulsa.

Plans for the Route 66 Rising sculpture, a Vision 2025 project, began two years ago with a $682,000 budget. Funds were collected from 2004 through 2016 through a Tulsa County sales tax that provided for regional economic development and capital improvements. Vision 2025 included $15 million for projects on Route 66 in Tulsa.

Beginning in 2017, the Vision Tulsa sales tax replaced Vision 2025 within the city limits.

Joy Avery shared some words about her grandfather’s influence on the famous highway. She read a poem that detailed her experience attending her first international Route 66 meeting in Springfield, Illinois.

“I learned from the people there how much they depended on Route 66,” Joy Avery said in a statement.

She cut the ribbon alongside those who have been working on the project.

Bynum said he wants other opportunities to be presented for tourists and residents by further developing Route 66 and allowing more people from around the world who want to experience it to have their experiences in Tulsa.

“This project shows the commitment that the citizens of Tulsa have to doing a better job of maximizing Route 66 as a tourist draw in our community,” Bynum said.

The artist who created the statue, Eric F. Garcia, was chosen with the approval of the Tulsa Arts Commission in 2016, said city spokeswoman Lara Weber. Garcia fabricated the sculpture in New Mexico and installed it in Tulsa from the fall of 2017 to early 2019.

In a statement, Garcia said his work was inspired by “a time when the Oklahoma dust bowl was a reminder of the hard times during the Depression and how the Old Route was a symbol of hope.”

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2020 Census to be printed without citizenship question

WASHINGTON — Days after the U.S. Supreme Court halted the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday started the process of printing the questionnaire without the controversial query.

Trump administration attorneys notified parties in lawsuits challenging the question that the printing of the hundreds of millions of documents for the 2020 counts would be starting, said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco confirmed there would be “no citizenship question on 2020 census.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that while he respected the Supreme Court’s decision, he strongly disagreed with it.

“The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question,” Ross said in a statement. “My focus, and that of the Bureau and the entire Department is to conduct a complete and accurate census.”

President Donald Trump had said after the high court’s decision last week that he would ask his attorneys about possibly delaying next spring’s decennial census until the Supreme Court could revisit the matter, raising questions about whether printing of the census materials would start as planned this month.

For months, the Trump administration had argued that the courts needed to decide quickly whether the citizenship question could be added because of the deadline to starting printing materials this week.

Even though the Census Bureau is relying on most respondents to answer the questionnaire by internet next year, hundreds of millions of printed postcards and letters will be sent out next March reminding residents about the census, and those who don’t respond digitally will be mailed paper questionnaires.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling left little opportunity for the administration to cure the defects with its decision to add a citizenship question and, most importantly, they were simply out of time given the deadline for printing forms,” Clarke said in an email.

Opponents of the citizenship question said it would discourage participation by immigrants and residents who are in the country illegally, resulting in inaccurate figures for a count that determines the distribution of some $675 billion in federal spending and how many congressional districts each state gets.

The Trump administration had said the question was being added to aid in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box.

Democratic mayors and governors opposed to the question argued that they’d get less federal money and fewer representatives in Congress if the question was asked because it would discourage the participation of minorities, primarily Hispanics, who tend to support Democrats.

Top congressional Democrats hailed Tuesday’s news. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “a welcome development for our democracy,” while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer promised his party “will be watching the Trump administration like a hawk to ensure there is no wrong-doing throughout this process and that every single person is counted.”

Dale Ho, who argued the Supreme Court case as director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, said, “Everyone in America counts in the census, and today’s decision means we all will.”