Outdoor recreation enthusiasts will soon have another reason to visit the northwest Arkansas-northeast Oklahoma region.

Scheduled to open in 2023, the WOKA Whitewater Park will boast waves for kayakers, surfers, rafters, and tubers of all abilities. The main attraction will be a 1,200-foot-long, 100-foot-wide channel with eight drop features. Additionally, the park will include spectator seating, rental services, walking trails, and stand-up paddleboard areas for those seeking a more relaxed experience.

The WOKA Whitewater Park is located at the old spillway of Lake Frances on the Upper Illinois River on the Oklahoma side of the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. It is a collaboration between the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) and the City of Siloam Springs, Arkansas, with initial funding provided by the Walton Family Foundation, which according to press materials is paying 95 percent of the cost to build the $33 million park.

“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.”

The WOKA Whitewater Park’s name is formed from a combination of the words: water, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The 30-acre park falls within the reservation boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. GRDA will oversee and manage the park, which forecasts 85,000 visitors annually with an estimated annual economic impact of $900,000.

WOKA Whitewater Park

“Whitewater parks attract enthusiasts that travel long distances to safely access and enjoy a multi-day experience,” said GRDA CEO and President Daniel Sullivan. “Research shows expenditures include trip-related lodging, recreational equipment and supplies, food, and entertainment. The WOKA Whitewater Park will bring an economic stimulus to a rural region and will become another significant tourism asset for both Oklahoma and Arkansas.”

The City of Siloam Springs operates another waterpark eight miles upstream, the Siloam Springs Kayak Park, which served as the inspiration for WOKA. In support of the project, the City of Siloam Springs deeded 17.25 acres to GRDA from the Siloam Springs Water Resource Company and will further partner to reinforce the existing dam that 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 filed in 2018 and approved in 2020 by the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Protecting the city’s water supply and enhancing conservation efforts make this collaboration ideal for the City of Siloam Springs,” said 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.”