arrowstoatomss-9844999On April 22, 1957, the “Arrows to Atoms” two-hundred-foot-tall tower at the state fairgrounds in Oklahoma City was dedicated and lighted as part of the state’s Semi-Centennial.

okcmaindusts-8096724The days of the Dust Bowl were then well within the memories of most in the city and state even if most who are alive today will not have a personal recollection of that time. Although Oklahoma City was only on the edge of the Dust Bowl area, it affected us and our city’s image greatly.

okcoverholser1935s-3150280During the days of the Dust Bowl and drought, badly parched Lake Overholser looked like this, in 1935 (looking north to the US 66 bridge around NW 39th today).

The “Arrows to Atoms” theme avoided the negative images of the 1930s and focused on the city’s present and hoped for future.

But, by as late as 1991, the North Canadian River passing south of downtown still looked like this (credit Mark Klett in his Photographing Oklahoma 1889/1991 (Oklahoma City Art Museum 1991):


How could THAT turn into this?


Arrows to Atoms, circa 1957, marked a break with the 1930s Dust Bowl. The city’s original (1993) MAPS program would radically change the North Canadian and see a part of it renamed “The Oklahoma River.” By the time 2007 rolled around, the city’s river hosted its first Olympic trials during the Centennial Regatta.


Now, in December 2011, Oklahoma City is embarking on its 2nd version based of Arrows To Atoms, with an analogous theme, the Formerly Crappy North Canadian River To A Water Olympics Headquarters — the river that needed to be mowed twice a year is now the address of a major water sport U.S. Olympic organization.

Steve Lackmeyer wrote the story about this today in the December 13, 2011, Oklahoman:

USA Canoe/Kayak will relocate headquarters to Oklahoma City
USA Canoe/Kayak, a member of the United States Olympic Committee, announced Tuesday the relocation of the organization’s headquarters to Oklahoma City.

        Both USA Canoe/Kayak Chief Executive Officer Joe Jacobi and Mayor Mick Cornett attributed the move to development of the boathouse district along the river and ongoing transformation of the waterway thanks to the original Metropolitan Area Projects.
        Jacobi said his office, which first opened in Oklahoma City along the Oklahoma River in 2009, will work closely with the city in developing a white water rapids venue included in the 2009 MAPS 3 ballot. The Oklahoma City office will replace Charlotte, N.C. as the organization’s national headquarters as the group begins its first ever promotional campaign for paddle sports.
        “This is a perfect illustration of how MAPS 3 was an attempt to build on the success of the original MAPS,” Cornett said. “I don’t know what this is going to lead to, but I’m sure there are many opportunities ahead.”

Lackmeyer’s story at NewsOK was enhanced by this video featuring Joe Jacobi and Mayor Cornett:

The development wasn’t just reported locally. Similar Associated Press and other reports were carried by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CNBC, Washington Post, and, of course, Charlotte, the organization’s previous home, among others.

Here’s the report at the official USA Canoe/ website:

USA Canoe/Kayak Announces Relocation of its Headquarters to Oklahoma City

        OKLAHOMA CITY – December 13, 2011 USA Canoe/Kayak, the national governing body (NGB) for the Olympic sports of flatwater sprint and whitewater slalom and a member of the United States Olympic Committee, announced today the relocation of its headquarters to the city of Oklahoma City.
        USA Canoe/Kayak will office with the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, allowing the two organizations to collaborate and build on the inherent synergy of shared values and objectives.
        A panel consisting of Joe Jacobi, OKCBF Executive Director Mike Knopp, USA Canoe/Kayak Board Chairman Bob Lally, and other leaders in the paddlesports industry will discuss USA Canoe/Kayak’s commitment to the future of paddle sports in America during a live stream broadcast scheduled to air on paddling web sites across the country and around the world. Watch live at
        A panel consisting of Joe Jacobi, OKCBF Executive Director Mike Knopp, USA Canoe/Kayak Board Chairman Bob Lally, and other leaders in the paddlesports industry will discuss USA Canoe/Kayak’s commitment to the future of paddle sports in America during a live stream broadcast scheduled to air on paddling web sites across the country and around the world. Watch live at
Joe Jacobi, USA Canoe/Kayak CEO: “USA Canoe/Kayak is launching a new era in paddlesports in the United States, with a focus on enabling U.S. athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence in Olympic, Paralympic and other international competition. With the tremendous momentum taking place at the Oklahoma River – from the National High Performance Center for kayaking and rowing to the MAPS 3 OKC citizen-voted sales tax initiative to fund quality of life projects which include the construction of a whitewater center and race course improvements to the Oklahoma River – Oklahoma City is the ideal location for the epicenter of our efforts and initiatives to grow paddlesports.
        A central component to USA Canoe/Kayak’s growth is the “Paddle Now!” program, which encourages families across America to explore our nation’s waterways in kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and stand up paddle boards. USA Canoe/Kayak has teamed up with canoe/kayak clubs across the country to promote paddlesports; learn more at
        Jacobi: “This nation has intrinsic ties to waterways – from the days of early explorers and Native Americans who paddled and portaged across the country to today’s active adventurers. We truly believe Oklahoma City, a place whose citizens have supported the Oklahoma River and whitewater initiatives, is the place to rekindle our nation’s passion for paddlesports.”


        Alan Ashley, U.S. Olympic Committee Chief of Sport Performance: “Mike Knopp and his team at the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation have created a model that places elite training in the heart of the community, building synergy between the elite athletes, local youth and adults, and the local business community. We’re hopeful that this approach will help USA Canoe/Kayak continue to build their talent pipeline and develop top athletes to represent Team USA.”
        William Irving, USA Canoe/Kayak National Teams Director: “We couldn’t be more happy to be working even closer with our partners at the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, who are providing our NGB with the ability to better serve our membership through a variety of resources that are focused on high performing athletes. Having our NGB based in Oklahoma City, will make a huge impact on the way in which we serve all of our constituents and infuse our sport with the ‘can do’ attitude that Oklahoma City exhibits. Looking into the future, once the Whitewater Course is in place, we will have a unique opportunity to bring our two Olympic sports together and for the first time in our sports history and be able to train Sprint and Slalom athletes alongside each other.”
        Kaitlyn McElroy, Sprint Kayaker: “Personally, moving to Oklahoma City to train was by far the right choice for me. The facilities are amazing. The boathouse district has everything you need to train at a high level. All that’s really left for you to do is work hard and go fast. Over the past two years there has been an influx of local children becoming involved with paddlesports on the Oklahoma River as well as an increasing number of athletes from all over the country coming to train. I think this creates a unique environment for everyone because you have kids who are just learning the ‘tricks of the trade’ mingling with world class athletes. I think this gives the kids great role models while keeping the older athletes honest and attached to why they started paddlesports in the first place.”
        Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett: “The significance of USA Canoe/Kayak’s relocation to Oklahoma City – in what was once known as ‘the dust bowl state’ – is indicative of the speed of change and positive forward momentum this community is creating. We’ve built a river that’s become not only a health-and-fitness destination for our citizens, but a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site for our nation’s aspiring Olympic kayakers and rowers. Becoming the headquarters of a National Governing Board is a testament to how powerful the MAPS initiatives truly are in influencing our ability to recreate and redefine our city.”


        The OKC Boathouse Foundation promotes the use and development of the Oklahoma River as a world-class urban aquatic venue and provides access to rowing, kayaking and fitness programs for people of all ages and abilities. OKCBF programs pursue the highest goals of sports and embrace the principles of the Olympic spirit which inspire athletes to work toward personal excellence, embrace the power of teamwork, and practice respect for all people and the environment. To learn more or get involved, call (405) 552-4040 or visit

About USA Canoe/Kayak

        USA Canoe/Kayak is a non-profit membership organization based in Oklahoma City, OK, promoting canoe and kayak racing in the United States. A member of the United States Olympic Committee, USA Canoe/Kayak is the national governing body for the Olympic sports of Flatwater Sprint and Whitewater Slalom and the official U.S. federation of the International Canoe Federation. Other paddling sports sanctioned by USACanoe/Kayak include Marathon, Freestyle, Wildwater, Stand Up Paddleboard, Canoe Polo, Canoe Sailing, Outrigger, and Dragon Boat.

Here’s a cool video by US Canoe/Kayak, uploaded by Okc, which nicely showcases the river area and development, with downtown’s skyline shown at 0:40 but you got to watch closely …

More to follow …

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