Wednesday, November 17, 2021

USS Batfish submarine in Muskogee moving downstream to Three Forks Harbor

One of Muskogee's overlooked treasures is the USS Batfish (SS-310) submarine, a vessel which operated with great success in the Pacific Theater of WWII, at one point sinking three Japanese submarines in a 76-hour period.

During the historic flooding of May 2019, the Batfish came loose and began to float for the first time since she was moved to Muskogee in 1973. Her ballast tanks were filled in order to ground her and stabilize her position during the flooding. As a result, the venerable warship was moved significantly out of position, and the entire grounds were severely damaged and undermined by the floodwaters.

Top: April 2019
Middle: May 2019
Bottom: June 2019

Victor Lezama, the director of the War Memorial Park which houses the Batfish, posted this update the other day, confirming rumors that plans are in the beginning stages to move the Batfish downstream a mile or so to the Three Forks Harbor:

Status Update of the Batfish, War Memorial Park Muskogee, Oklahoma 

Several obstacles have come up over the last few months that leave The War Memorial Trust with little options, other than to move the Batfish.

  1. Port officials have notified the Trustees that the War Memorial Park lease is coming up and that they would like to work with the trust to relocate the park and Batfish to a more accommodating location.
  2. There is a levee system being built around the port, taking out the land along the river coming back into the existing War Memorial Park taking up most of the area behind the museum building, causing the sub and monuments to be moved south of their existing area.
  3. The Corps of Engineers has raised the floodplain level, which will affect the above-mentioned levee by 3 additional feet, causing a new engineering study that will raise the height and extend the slope on both sides of the levee taking out a good portion of the grounds where the Batfish and War Memorial Park are now located.
  4. New federal requirements will now call for extensive fencing and a Homeland Security Gate to be located on Harris Road, just off the turn pike exits. The new entrance to the port will cut off easy access to batfish road and the access roads making it more difficult to get in and out of the port. The gated entrance is expected to decrease attendance to the museum and back up traffic onto the exits and overpass during large events and holiday celebrations.
  5. The City Council recently approved an Economic Development Tiff District inside the port to work with a new company moving to Muskogee to build two new factory buildings and 6 new Union Pacific Railroad spikes between the Batfish and the turnpike. The new business will block the remaining museum grounds, making it more difficult to see, locate and access the park.
  6. The current location of War Memorial Park has been under debate for years with lots of discussion to move the sub, where it could be moved and how. There has been speculation of moving the batfish to downtown and to 69 Hwy and Shawnee as possible locations. The logistics of either location are possible but are too expensive to consider.

Several issues affecting the current location have been: Location, Location, Location! Lack of visibility, Difficult to locate and access, Low traffic area, Difficult to see coming from Tulsa on the turnpike and coming the opposite direction from Ft Smith you cannot see the park until you are on the bridge leaving town and unable to stop or turn around for 15 minutes until reaching the Wagoner/69 HWY exit. Located in a heavy industrial park and in front of a large pipe yard it is difficult to make out the submarine with all the metal pipes in the background and immediate area. No surrounding businesses to work with to co-promote and attract new and more traffic.    

The goal is to get the sub to a spot that is more visible, accessible and has the grounds to grow the exhibits and facilities into a world class monument/museum that our veterans, citizens and the whole State of Oklahoma will be proud of. first and foremost, is to honor those who have served our great nation, currently serve now and those that will serve in the future and to pay respect to the brave men and women who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

The Port Authority is requesting that War Memorial Park and the assets (artifacts, exhibits, military equipment etc.…), move to Three Rivers Harbor on the east side of the Arkansas River just south of Hwy 62 and Bass Reeves Bridge to Ft Gibson. The Batfish will be located south of the marina and port office facilities on the high point in front of where the old OG&E plant sat prior to demolition. A new museum building will be built to house the artifacts, exhibits, gift shop, veterans center, meeting rooms/educational center. There is a lot of area to spread the assets around the property and possibly add a military style diner and other amenities to increase family entertainment options at the park. The Trust is working with Avry Frix and Bob Coburn to locate military assets in the clover leaves (grass areas inside the hwy ramps), along the Muskogee Turnpike at Chandler Road, 62 Hwy and Harris Road exit ramps along with signage steering traffic to War Memorial Park.

By combining the Marina, War Memorial Park and the Port Office/Facility Buildings into one area, they will be able to work together to redevelop the harbor to attract more tourism and new activities to serve the community. Increasing traffic, access and activities, the harbor will become a regional destination spot and Entrepreneurs and new businesses will follow to open restaurants, charter boat services, fishing and hunting tournaments and guide services, boat sales and rentals, concerts & theater promotors, bicycle sales and rentals, sports store/water sports/fishing, bait & tackle. The options are unlimited, and this is a great opportunity for these three organizations to work together and thrust our amazing three rivers waterways into the spotlight for recreational boating, racing, water sports, bicycling and adventure & eco-tourism. 

Yes, the Three Rivers Harbor area is in Muskogee. The park is not moving to Ft. Gibson. War Memorial Park, will be located in the middle of both towns on the river. This is a great opportunity for all of the surrounding communities.

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