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The wave of the future

As early as 2007, “surf’s up” might become a call beckoning seekers of big waves to Glenwood Springs, far inland from the California coast.A five-year dream of local kayaking enthusiasts to build a whitewater park in town is starting to look as if it might become a reality. A tentative plan is taking shape for building the attraction in West Glenwood.A conceptual design prepared by an engineering firm lays out a vision of a big-wave feature in the river just west of the bridge crossing the Colorado River at Midland Avenue. On either bank, terraces formed by boulders would offer vantage points to spectators, as would a pedestrian bridge on the west side of the bridge. The area would link to a trail that might someday extend to South Canyon, already an attraction for whitewater enthusiasts. A parking lot would be built on city property on the southwest side of the bridge.The eventual design of whatever is built in West Glenwood might change somewhat from this initial one. But Joe Mollica, chairman of the city’s whitewater park task force, thinks it’s safe to project that construction on some kind of park could take place as soon as the winter of 2006.”I’m glad we stuck with it,” said Mollica, who had been disillusioned earlier this year when City Council said no to the committee’s plans for building a park in the Two Rivers Park area in central Glenwood Springs.The Hot Springs Pool had been concerned about potential impacts on its hot springs aquifer if the park was built downtown. Council encouraged the group to look at the area of the bridge in West Glenwood instead.On Dec. 1, council approved $36,000 in engineering costs for the park.The same day, the task force unveiled a preliminary park proposal by the Hydraulic Design Group in Grand Junction. HDG hopes to be selected to come up with several more definitive designs for the city to consider over coming months.The highlight of HDG’s initial concept is a main wave feature in the center of the river.”A good wave in Glenwood has the potential to become the top whitewater destination in the state. It is one of very few spots in the state where there is significant flow year-round,” HDG wrote in its proposal.Various water rights affecting the Colorado River help assure decent river flows in town throughout the year, and already benefit the city’s whitewater rafting industry.As for the attractiveness of a good, single wave, that’s been proven in South Canyon. There, a wave that forms at certain river flows attracts whitewater enthusiasts from around the state and beyond.HDG representative Nick Turner said engineers can use computer programs and flume models to try to predict how whitewater feature installations will perform. But there’s still no way to know exactly what kind of wave would end up being created in West Glenwood. Nevertheless, he thinks it would be bigger and wider than the South Canyon wave.”It would definitely be a good wave, no matter what,” he said.The underwater mechanism used to create the wave would consist of a precast, block-like structure that can be placed without having to divert the river, as is required with some other construction methods in which concrete is used. The structure would have an angled slope on top and be made up of four or five pieces, which could sit at slightly different elevations to address changing water levels throughout the year, including during spring runoff.Not considering varying river flows has resulted in failed whitewater parks elsewhere in the region, according to HDG.”A properly designed park will have features that operate through the range of flows, creating rodeo holes at high flow and providing safe learning opportunities for novices at moderate flows.”HDG’s concept includes high-flow features that would be located near the riverbank on each side of the main wave. It also would include an area wide enough for passage of drift boats and rafts.Turner said most whitewater parks traditionally have featured “holes,” but the trend now is to build parks that create waves that today’s kayaks are designed to surf. The waves are harder to design, however.Mollica said Turner already has designed what some kayakers say is one of the best waves in the world, in Riverdale, Utah. Other past HDG projects include ones in Rangely and Durango. It is now working on ones in Avon, Vail and Ecuador.A hydraulic engineer, Turner also wrote a Montana whitewater guidebook and is a frequent member on whitewater expeditions around the world that have been showcased in Teton Gravity Research films.The city task force had projected a $1.2 million cost for a downtown park that would have included a series of features. Its West Glenwood project is less ambitious. Turner said it’s too early to talk very specifically about instream costs, but a wave feature of the kind in the conceptual design might run from $200,000 to $400,000. Out of the water, things such as a pedestrian bridge and riverbank attractions could drive costs up from there.The task force plans to approach Great Outdoors Colorado and other groups for possible grants. Mollica said the group received a donation of boulders for the park that became available during Highway 82 construction.The park will require approvals from agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers and Colorado Division of Wildlife.”I just think it’s going to be really good for the city and the community,” Mollica said of the park. “It adds just another big recreational amenity here, and that’s what I think Glenwood should be all about.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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