30-acre whitewater park planned near Siloam Springs

Artist rendering of the new park / Courtesy Grand River Dam Authority

A 30-acre whitewater park is scheduled to open in a few years on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border near Siloam Springs, officials announced Thursday.

The WOKA Whitewater Park will feature a 1,200-foot-long, 100-foot-wide side channel off the Illinois River with eight drop-features for kayakers, surfers, paddle boarders, tubers and rafters of all skill levels, according to a news release from the Grand River Dam Authority and city of Siloam Springs.

The Walton Family Foundation is paying 95% of the cost to build the $33 million park, which officials estimate will draw 85,000 visitors each year with an annual economic impact of $900,000.

Construction is underway on the new park, located at the old spillway of Lake Frances on the Upper Illinois River on the Oklahoma side of the border. The park is expected to open sometime in 2023.

The dam authority will oversee and manage the park, which was named using a combination of the words water, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Location and layout / Courtesy

“Surrounded by the Illinois River and the Ozark Mountains, WOKA perfectly defines the native beauty America’s Heartland has to offer,” said Jim Walton of the Walton Family Foundation. “This national-caliber park will preserve access to nature for generations and unlock economic opportunity by attracting visitors looking for unique outdoor experiences.”

Additional visitor amenities will include waterfront, shaded spectator seating, rental services, parking, a trail system, public restrooms, and course put in and take outs.

The city of Siloam Springs operates another waterpark eight miles upstream which served as the inspiration for WOKA, according to a fact sheet. Siloam Springs deeded 17.25 acres to the dam authority from the Siloam Springs Water Resource Company and will further partner to reinforce the existing dam which supplies water to Siloam Springs from upstream.

Materials repurposed from the whitewater course construction will be used to create a “stair-step” dam that will also mitigate hydraulic conditions and dangerous currents. A 404 Clean Water Act permit required to begin the project was approved in March by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Protecting the city’s water supply and enhancing conservation efforts makes this collaboration ideal for the City of Siloam Springs,” said Siloam Springs Mayor John Mark Turner. “We have experienced the success of drawing visitors to Siloam Springs with our kayak park. Locating a second whitewater park in the region will work in tandem and complement each other to leverage these attractions to the success of both.”