Legislature votes to protect Glover River

Mitchell McDaniel Historic Act means southeast river never will see a dam

The Oklahoma State Capitol. (KJBOutdoors photo)

For the CCOF

Oklahoma’s only free-flowing natural river will forever remain that way if Gov. Kevin Stitt signs a bill passed this week by the state legislature.

With a final amendment to name SB1585 for a Hochatown businessman and conservationist who died Sunday, it passed unanimously from the House floor Thursday as the Mitchell McDaniel Historic Act for the Glover River. The bill also sailed through the Senate with unanimous approval in March.

The bill creates a new statute for “heritage rivers,” which by definition would apply only to the Glover. It designates authority to the Oklahoma Water Resource Board for management of the waters, any new public access, and states, “it shall not be impounded by any large dam or structure for industrial purposes and no entity shall sell or transfer water from any heritage river.”

The 33.2-mile mountain stream flows south through McCurtain County and the Ouachita Mountains to its confluence with the Litter River, which continues southeast into Arkansas. Its upper East Fork and West Fork join in the northern portion of the county, near the unincorporated village of Battiest and amidst some of the state’s most remote forested wilderness.

“Mitchell loved the river just as much as I do,” bill co-author Rep. Eddy Dempsey, R-Valliant, said naming the bill for McDaniel, a founding partner of Mountain Fork Distillery who died Sunday at the age of 59.

“One of our last conversations was about how when we found some time we would go fishing on the Glover,” Dempsey said while taking a break from House floor proceedings Thursday. “He has been here several times and people gathered around me here because they knew how close we were.”

Tommy “Blue” McDaniel, said the three McDaniel brothers grew up fishing, hunting, and swimming along the upper stretches of the river’s west fork, “where it’s three steps to cross from one bank to the other.”

USGS website image

His older brother, Mitch, and the eldest of the three, Mark, share the same love of the river and it was a big part of what drew them back to the region, go into business, and join in the expansion of Hochatown.

“We grew up on the Glover,” he said. “We fished there, our family deer camp has been there 60 years.”

Mitch McDaniel not only put his 30 years as a chemist in food sciences and analytical chemistry to work creating Oklahoma bourbons and vodkas but served as a technical advisor to Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy, Tommy McDaniel said.

“The river is a living laboratory,” he said. “The last and only free-flowing river in the state.”

Dempsey said he shared a passion for the river and a similar background with the “haven” as the place he first learned to swim, learned to fish, and had his first turkey and deer hunting experiences. He and McDaniel met in college.

“We didn’t have a lot of money to go places for spring break in college so we would invite our frat brothers to the Glover,” he said.

The bill does not impact existing property owners, land uses, or established businesses along the river but directs the Water Board to create a management plan and identify any future “public or private nuisances” that might impact the river.

Dempsey said the river is not under current threat to be dammed or tapped for its water resources but it had been talked about in the past as a water source for northeast Texas and that possibility always looms.

“People have fought over water ever since the world has been around,” he said.

Dempsey said he is confident the governor will sign the bill as Stitt and his son have visited and hunted in the area with him.

“He knows my passion for the river,” he said.

Kelly Bostian is an independent journalist writing for The Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to education and outreach on conservation issues facing Oklahomans. To learn more about what we do and to support Kelly’s work, see the About the CCOF page.

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