Tulsans Ready To Race Down Full River For Great Raft Race

Thursday, September 1st 2016, 9:00 pm
By: Tess Maune

Registration pick-up started Thursday for Tulsa's Great Raft Race. Rafters will launch their handmade vessels on the Arkansas River early Monday morning.

Right now, the Arkansas River is bank-to-bank with water. But, with the way the river system works, we could wake up in the morning to see not much more than sand.

That, however, won’t the case on race day.

Anxious rafters picked up their race-day packet; few are more thrilled than race director, Seth Erkenbeck.

“Everybody's excited for the weekend, for Labor Day, for sure,” he said.

There's also excitement seeing the Arkansas River full and flowing, but that could quickly change.

“The river hasn't looked horrible lately, but most people in Tulsa realize a lot of time the river is dry,” Erkenbeck said.

Depending on Keystone's lake level, Erkenbeck said the event might have to pay Southwest Power "a high five-figure number" to release water during a non-peak time.

“There's no demand for electricity in the middle of the night, so they're dropping water for the event for free, basically, from their perspective,” the race director said.

The power company essentially controls all of Keystone's water when it's below flood stage. But when it hits flood stage, the Army Corps of Engineers takes over to manage to water.

Right now, the lake is more than a foot above normal, and rising.

Earl Groves, Tulsa Corps of Engineers COO, said, “To manage it with all the other reservoirs, we know how much and when and where to release. So, it's going to coincide with the raft ride.”

The Corps said it will likely have to start releasing water on Saturday to help bring Keystone Lake back down to normal, meaning water in the river at no cost to The Great Raft Race.

Erkenbeck said, “I'm knocking on wood, nothing is set in stone…My fingers are crossed.”

About 750 rafters will make their way down eight miles of the river for this year's race.

You can find more information on the race here.