A braided prairie river is a laid-back version of its faster, deeper flowing cousins, but it is no less biologically significant. The Canadian River that flows through Norman is home to the endangered Interior Least Tern and the threatened Arkansas River Shiner, among other species.
The Norman City Council brought John Cougher of the Nature Conservancy and the Canadian River Conservancy in to talk about the possibility of a Canadian River Nature Park as part of the Norman Forward proposal.
“We have this river right here in Norman that’s largely not being used,” Cougher said.
Rivers like the Canadian are known as braided because the rich, sandy soil creates sandbars in the flat rivers, causing the water to twist, curve and weave around those ever-changing sandy shores and sandbars.
Cougher said people look for greenways and open spaces when they choose where to live, and 400 acres along the Canadian would be a good home for a passive-use park.
Passive uses include hiking, biking, picnicking, photography and wildlife observation.
The Canadian is rich territory for bird watchers, Cougher said.
The braided prairie river is also an opportunity for environmental education because it is a habitat rich in natural resources and species not found everywhere.
Currently, the only legal access for the Norman portion of the Canadian is from Cherry Creek Park.
The cost estimate for Phase I of the river trail is just under $2 million. That does not include land acquisition, but Cougher said there has been interest from owners Bob Moore Farms Group LLC and Anthem Partnership, both represented by Mark Moore, son of the late Bob Moore.
The Canadian River Conservancy has spoken to Moore, who expressed interest in creating a river park on the property to serve as a memorial to his late father and as a legacy for the family.
The land is in the flood plain and is not property that could be developed commercially, but its development as a nature park would be an economic benefit to land that is developing nearby.
The site is west of Interstate 35 and the park is included in the Norman Parks Master Plan with a public rating of very highly desired.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency would have to sign off on the project.
“Any development of this would be a careful regulatory process,” Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said.
O’Leary and Cougher believe the land could be developed for a passive nature park, however, as it would be better for the least tern and other species that call the Canadian and its sandy banks home.
Currently, ATV riders trespass, doing damage to the nesting grounds of the least tern, Cougher said. It is believed that these trespassers do not realize they are doing anything wrong. The park would provide a protective entity.
Maintenance would be minimal. One mile of paved trail and three miles of natural surface trails are proposed.
“The intent would be to leave it very natural,” Parks Director Jud Foster said.
Council member Lynne Miller asked if money is available for the trails through state or federal programs.
“We have been very successful recently with trail grands,” Foster said.
Norman has received grants from the State Trails Commission.
“We got two for the Saxon project and we have another application in for Sutton Wilderness,” Foster said.
“I just think we have such an amazing opportunity with Norman Forward,” Miller said. “This (Canadian River project) is for everyone, and it’s free or low cost.”
The council also discussed whether to designate a portion of Norman Forward projects for public art. Council member Kyle Allison suggested setting aside 1 percent of relevant projects for art.
Mike Fowler, who spearheaded the grassroots initiative that brought Norman Forward to the table, said inclusion of art and art elements were figured into the rough estimates for the Norman Forward plans already.
Council members also discussed having a consultant put together a Statistically Valid Survey to determine how people feel about the various projects and what they would support in a vote. The survey would cost about $23,000.
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