Sunken "treasures" in Tenkiller
By Teddye Snell, Press Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 3, 2005 10:24 AM CDT
TENKILLER STATE PARK -- From the plains of Kansas to the valleys of Georgia and back to the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, Ron and Pat Pomeroy have spent much of their summer helping an area state park enrich its diving facility.
The Pomeroys recently donated the fuselage of a small plane, which was sunk Monday morning at Tenkiller State Park's underwater dive park.
Ron Pomeroy, a business owner from Belle Plain, Kan., made his first trip to the park over the Christmas holiday in 2004.
"My wife and I came down here and spent New Year's Eve and New Year's Day diving," said Pomeroy. "Here we are, half a year later, and now we own a [second] home here and spend all of our free time on the lake diving."
Pomeroy, who learned of the park during his first dive, wanted to make a lasting contribution.
"I have this buddy, Ronnie Powers, who works for Cessna," said Pomeroy. "If you're a fan of the TV show 'Monster Garage,' you may have seen him, as he was a project director for one of the shows. Anyway, he put me in touch with some folks at Atlanta Air Exchange in Griffin, Ga., who had a fuselage from a plane they were looking to get rid of."
Pomeroy contacted Tim Knight, owner of Nautical Adventures in Cookson, about whom to talk to to get the necessary permits for sinking the craft.
Knight had already gained experience in untangling the red tape needed to sink anything, as he was instrumental in getting the dive park started.
According to Diane Rutland, park marketing director, the lake is one of the clearest in the state for below-the-surface exploration.
"Because of its long-time popularity, those familiar with the lake and surrounding areas felt a need to provide something more and out-of-the-ordinary for visitors who make the lake and park a regular destination," said Rutland.
The result is the state's first underwater scuba park. The shore-based park already features sunken boats a school bus. Items are placed under water to give divers something to "discover."
"We wanted to see if we could create an area that was safe for divers to go to," said Knight. "It only made sense to see if we could initiate it in a centralized location like the state park. It sounds so simple to dedicate an area on the water and get it started, but we had to get everything approved through several channels involving different agencies."
Long before work began on the park, local dive instructors, dive shops, businesses, Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department officials, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives, local legislators and members of the Greater Tenkiller Area Association brainstormed on a number of factors, including safety, diving needs and funding.
The location seemed to be perfect for both the park and dive community.
"People used to come to the state park for diving, anyway," said Knight. "Right now, this area is used for people who don't own boats and want to dive."
According to Williams, once the word got out about this unique park, donations of underwater items started coming in, along with offers of support and positive feedback from water sport fans like the Pomeroys.
"We always donate to one thing or another," said Pomeroy. "We figured, why not donate something to a place we love and will get some use from?"
Once approval was obtained, Pomeroy and his wife set out from their home in Kansas for the long trip to Georgia in their truck, with a trailer in tow. They had no problems getting the fuselage from Georgia to its current home on the lake.
"We only stopped twice between here and Birmingham [Ala.]," said Pomeroy. "We didn't have any problems at all. However, a police officer followed through Vian. I kept thinking, 'Oh, man, if I get all this way only to get stopped in Vian, I'll be ticked.' But he just followed us for a little ways and then turned around."
Divers Tim Knight and others made sure the plane was towed to its final resting place at the end of Fisherman's Point with the aid of a pontoon boat. Inflatable air bags were tethered to the plane to keep it afloat while being towed.
The fuselage, which weighs approximately 3,500 pounds, was sunk in 40 feet of water. Before being submersed, all objects are stripped of parts that would create a hazard, and rigorously cleaned of any oils or chemicals that might harm the lake environment.
"The depth in the park area is about 70-75 feet, with underwater visibility of up to 50 feet," said Williams. "Buoys mark the four-acre area where divers can explore what lies beneath."
Williams said someone else is willing to donate a military tank, but the park is awaiting approval from the Corps of Engineers.
"Once everything is in place, we'll have a sign put up with the locations, depth and global positioning site of each item for exploration posted here at the park," said Williams.
Williams and Knight agree the economic impact of the attraction benefits the community, the park and area motels and restaurants.
"I know the Tulsa Fire and Rescue Department uses this area for underwater training," said Williams. "We have over 100 divers per week to the underwater dive park alone."
Williams said compared to recent years, visits to the park have increased by 16,000 so far this summer.
According to Rutland, developers hope to expand the concept to other areas of the lake.
Josh Haggerd and his wife, Kendra, spend time at the park diving, and were there Monday to watch the sinking of the plane.
"This'll be great," said Haggerd. "I got my diving certification five years ago and have found the school bus and a boat that had S.S. Minnow painted on the side of it. This'll be one more adventure to have."