By Debbie Chaloupek and Sara Goodeyon
Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
CANTON, Okla. — Canton Lake in western Oklahoma is a part of the Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ system of lakes built for flood risk reduction, water supply, and hydropower. It also provides recreation opportunities in a region where few exist. It boasts the Canadian Recreation Area which was one of the most popular Corps recreation areas in the nation. That was until a tornado ripped through the recreation area May 24, leaving behind near-complete destruction with debris scattered everywhere, including the bottom of the lake.
“The tornado did a tremendous amount of damage to the area,” said Kathy Carlson, the lake manager at Canton. “It totally destroyed 77 Class A campsites, two restrooms, a new courtesy boat dock, more than 20 camping trailers, several vehicles and numerous trees, while many other facilities were severely damaged.”
Debris was scattered all over the lake, trees were down everywhere, in both the Canadian Area and in the Longdale Recreation Area across the lake on the north shoreline, said Carlson. As the lake manager, it was Carlson who would be responsible for doing something about the mess, but with the current economic slow-down and drastically reduced funding for recreation projects, clean up and rebuilding would be a challenge.
That’s when the volunteers stepped in to help.
“Large numbers of volunteers, more than 200 people with chain saws, vehicles, trailers and even heavy equipment, came forward in the aftermath of the tornado to help clean up the mess and get us back on our feet,” said Carlson. “The volunteer effort put forth saved the Corps thousands of dollars on this cleanup effort and was directly responsible for making it possible to re-open the Canadian Day Use Area and boat ramp before the Fourth of July holiday.”
Tulsa District Commander Col. Michael Teague sought to recognize such outstanding effort on the part of the volunteers. In a ceremony October 17 at the Canton Lake Office, Teague recognized the local companies and organized volunteers who gave their assistance with the debris cleanup.
Teague presented Renewable Energy Systems Americas, Inc. with the Department of the Army’s Commander’s Award for Public Service. It is the fourth highest public service award that may be granted to private citizens. The award is given to recognize service or achievements that contribute significantly to the accomplishment of the mission of an Army activity, command, or staff agency. Renewable Energy Systems Americas, Inc. provided more than 50 volunteers to assist with debris cleanup, along with heavy equipment to remove large downed trees and helped demolish a severely damaged concrete block restroom building.
Teague also presented the Department of the Army’s Certificate of Appreciation, which recognizes outstanding public service, to each of the following companies and organizations: Meridian Engineering Company, Siemens Energy Incorporated, Chesapeake Energy Corporation-Waynoka Field Office, and Chesapeake Energy Corporation-Weatherford Field Office, the Canton Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.
Each of these groups organized large numbers of volunteers to assist the Canton Lake staff with the cleanup efforts. These volunteers assisted with the cleanup of tree limbs in the Canadian Area and debris removal from the north shoreline and along Canton Dam.
The future of the campground at the Canadian Recreation Area is unclear. A tremendous amount of work remains to be done there. One thing is clear, though, and that is that Corps lakes and lands are a vital and integral part of the community, and when catastrophe strikes, that community pulls together.
Carlson noted that by banding together to get the Canadian Day Use Area re-opened, the volunteers did more than just clean. Just as importantly, their generous, caring and unselfish response helped raise the spirits of all those affected by the May tornado, said Carlson. This is a great example of how the Corps and the local communities can be partners in working to preserve the benefits of Canton Lake.