The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 9, 2013

Canton trying to stay afloat

Community working to keep its fishing derby activities from disappearing along with lake

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

CANTON, Okla. — Residents are trying to recover from a loss of a major source of industry: Canton Lake.

Oklahoma City claimed its water rights to Canton Lake, due to a drought that has lasted more than a year, and began drawing 30,000 acre feet of water from the lake last month.

And as the water left, it also left Canton residents wondering how they will survive a loss of revenue generated annually from those who have used the lake in the past for recreational purposes.

One of the main attractions held at the lake each year is fast approaching. The annual Walleye Rodeo, set May 16-19, is a major economic driver.

But this year, participants may be building sand castles instead of fishing, as the lake is extremely low.

The drawdown of the water from the lake has left it virtually dry, with much of the lake floor exposed and little fish habitat remaining. Supporters are considering alternative events to take the place of the traditional lake activities, hoping to still attract annual participants.

Matt Fuqua, of Canton Lake Association, said a poker run is planned, along with a 5K run and one-mile fun run/walk. The poker run will raise money for a team involved with Relay for Life, a cancer research fundraising event. A music festival also is scheduled, with several of the top area bands recruited to play, Fuqua said.

“We have all sorts of things going this year. We don’t want it to keep us down,” Fuqua said.

Although still in the planning stages, the new Walleye Rodeo events include a barbecue cook-off, culminating in a meal for poker run participants and 5K runners.

Fuqua said it is not clear whether the event will be expanded into a public feed. Also scheduled is a show of classic vehicles, and the music festival will be held on the rodeo grounds May 18.

Fuqua said CLA members want to keep the fishing derby alive. The Walleye Rodeo fishing derby is the oldest in Oklahoma, he said, and organizers fear if they let it die, it will be difficult to bring it back.

“We’re trying hard to make a super weekend in Canton,” he said.

Members hope to replace the normal water-based events with others until the lake comes back, although no one knows when that will be.

A sand castle and sand sculpture building contest is planned along Sandy Beach Cove, Fuqua said. He said the area makes the most sense to supporters, although people will have to walk quite a distance to reach areas where there is water.

“We don’t know how big it will be over time,” he said.

The loss of the water from Canton Lake has dealt a big blow to the community, which bases nearly its entire income on the lake. Fuqua compared the loss of water to “a kick in the groin.”

“We want to keep the buzz going and keep people coming,” Fuqua said.

Donnie Jenkins, a tour guide at the lake and owner of a hotel on the lake’s edge, said he did not know how the new events will affect the Walleye Rodeo. The state biologist at the lake will talk to Army Corps of Engineers representatives about whether there will be enough water remaining in the lake to stock walleye for the fishing derby.

“There should be some fish left in it,” Jenkins said. “The town is hurt. Anything will help.”

Canton Lake was built for flood control, water supply and irrigation. Later, secondary purposes were included that added wildlife habitat and recreation. Oklahoma City pays the Army Corps of Engineers for rights to the water.

Oklahoma City officials had planned to seek the water for some time but postponed the request as long as possible, said Debbie Ragan, spokeswoman for Oklahoma City Public Utilities Department. Oklahoma City is using the water to replenish its drinking water supply in Lake Hefner.ÿ