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Carbondale funds creation of whitewater park plan

Lynn Burton
Staff Writer

Kayakers and economic development proponents have jumped on board with each other, and are floating whitewater parks as a way to increase tourism in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

“Whitewater parks are one of the fastest-growing outdoor sports in the country,” said Carbondale Chamber of Commerce Vice President Artie Rothman at Tuesday night’s Carbondale Board of Trustees meeting. “There are 22 in the U.S., and they’ve all been huge tourist attractions.”

Rothman said Carbondale and Glenwood Springs could team up to offer world-class kayaking events on back-to-back weekends during the tourism shoulder season in April, May or June. “The whole valley could become a major kayaking area,” Rothman said.

Downstream at the Glenwood Spring Chamber Resort Association, marketing/tourism director Lori Hogan said her city isn’t as far along as Carbondale, “but certainly we can play with each other.”

Whitewater parks are created when large boulders are placed in urban rivers to create “features” that produce holes or waves that allow freestyle kayakers to perform tricks and other maneuvers such as an “endo” or “aerial blunt.”

The parks usually include a gated slalom course similar to the one on the Crystal River at Colorado Rocky Mountain School, said Carbondale Recreation Director Jeff Jackel, who has been working with a task force to create a whitewater park on the Roaring Fork River.

An article in a recent Paddler magazine profiled 12 whitewater parks around the United States, including one on the Arkansas in Salida, Colo. Rothman said that two weeks ago, Salida hosted its 53rd FIBArk boating festival, which was attended by 20,000 visitors.

“Carbondale has a lot in common with Salida,” Rothman said.

Other whitewater parks profiled in the Paddling story included those in Durango, Steamboat Springs and Vail. Parks under construction are in Lyons and Pueblo.

Carbondale’s whitewater park would be located along two miles of the Roaring Fork River, east and west of the Highway 133 bridge. During a site tour with trustees and others on Tuesday, Rothman said features would probably be created at each end of the whitewater park.

The entire facility would be called Gateway River Park. Preliminary plans call for restrooms, picnic facilities, hiking paths, a pedestrian bridge from the north to the south side of the river, plus access to Red Hill through a pedestrian underpass under Highway 82.

“We’re trying to get people to stop to explore the town,” Rothman said. “This will be a valuable piece of park property.”

A key component is an acre of property for sale at the northwest intersection of highways 133 and 82.

Jo-An Barnett, Carbondale’s economic development director, addressed the possible benefits to the town, and concluded, “How much sales tax is raised depends on how well businesses attract kayakers.”

After Tuesday night’s whitewater park presentation, Carbondale’s trustees unanimously agreed to fund a master plan for Gateway River Park.

It will look at nuts-and-bolts issues such as parking, plus possible economic impacts to the town.

“There are quite a few pieces to the puzzle, and they need to be looked at,” said Carbondale Town Manager John Hier.

Rothman estimated park costs at approximately $265,000 without the Highway 82 underpass or the piece of property at the intersection.

In Glenwood Springs, Hogan said the city is considering whitewater parks from Veltus Park on the Roaring Fork River, down to Two Rivers Park on the Colorado. There would be two to five features.

“We’re in the initial stages” of planning, Hogan said.

There might also be a whitewater park site west of Two Rivers Park.

Hogan said Glenwood’s whitewater park task force is looking at numerous related issues, including water rights, parking, accessibility and compatibility with other uses.

“There are so many things to consider.”


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