Illinois River Float Spots Hope To Bounce Back In Time For Summer
CHEROKEE COUNTY, Oklahoma - The floating industry draws thousands of visitors who spend lots of money with operators across eastern Oklahoma every season.
But, flooding like we've seen over the last few days stops business in its tracks.
Highway 10 is back open but you can tell just how high the water levels were.
Debris lines the road and you can see the water lines at the top of the windows at one business, but, somehow the folks out here remain resilient.
All the water and piles of mud and grass shouldn't be where they are, but Mother Nature had a devastating plan that left businesses in deep water.
"We were here fighting it as it was going on because this creek rises quickly before the river does," said Riverbend Floats owner Robbie Franks.
For 100 years, Franks' family has called the area around the river home.
"We're planted here pretty good," Franks said.
But, for the last three years, he's run Riverbend Floats. He got a little water in his building in 2015, but this year a stopped up culvert caused a lot more damage.
Business owners said this is the second time this has happened, but this time instead of moving they are going to remove the culvert and build a bridge to allow more water to flow through.
Franks said he'll do what he can to stay afloat.
Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols said it's important that the businesses don't sink.
"The floating industry is an integral part of Tahlequah's economy," Nichols said. "We have thousands of visitors to the river each year. They spend, they put a lot of money into our economy."
The last major flood was tough and even forced some to shut down. Others were still recovering when this one hit. He's holding out faith that the community's resilience will remain strong.
"The people that live near the Illinois river are tied to it," Nichols said. "It's almost a cultural component to it and after the crisis passes, I would imagine the overwhelming majority of business owners in the area would choose to remain."
Franks plans to do just that. There are about 100 days in the floating season.
The mayor said the community will be working hard to at least guarantee 90 of those days.