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Whitewater Park ready to rock

$850K construction project begins on Smelter Rapid

Avid cruisers of the Animas River Trail might have noticed a giant bulldozer blocking their path. Construction has commenced along the trail beside Whitewater Park at Smelter Rapid.

The construction at Santa Rita Park near Durango’s wastewater-treatment plant will result in a temporary diversion of the river trail while a crew restructures the riverbed, which will allow for more control over the intensity of the rapid.

The in-stream work is slated to be completed by March, just in time for the spring runoff.

Scott McClain, landscape architect for the city of Durango, said the riverbed will be grouted and rocks will be moved to maintain river-flow consistency. During major water runoffs, the rocks can move, changing the rapids, he said, and every so often, the rocks have to be rearranged. This structure is intended to be more permanent, he said.

With the changes being made to the river, the city also plans to expand that portion of the trail from 10 feet to 14 feet wide to accommodate the anticipated influx of kayakers and rafters.

Durango’s Parks & Recreation Department will host a community visioning meeting about plans to improve the shoreline at Whitewater Park on Thursday at Durango Community Recreation Center. The meeting is open to the public.

Cathy Metz, director of Parks & Recreation, said she is satisfied with how the project is going so far. It began Nov. 2.

After a long process of applying for a recreational in-channel diversion right through the water courts, a conditional water right was given in 2007. The water right will not be permanent until the boating park is complete, she said.

Protecting the public’s recreational access to the river was a long process, Metz said. The Animas River Task Force, a group of residents who wanted to obtain the water rights for recreation, were the initial spark commencing the project in 2005, she said.

Also, all parties involved in the construction process have to follow safety and environmental regulations to make sure they are up to code.

“We have a lot of people watching this project very carefully,” Metz said.

The initial estimate for Whitewater Park was about $1.3 million, but Metz said that might be high. She said the project is contracted for about $850,000, with additional money available as a safety net in case of any unforeseen financial hiccups.

Funds were made available by a half-cent sales-tax increase voters approved in 2005 for open space, parks and recreational purposes.

Scott Shipley, the engineer and mastermind behind the current project, is looking forward to bringing Durango back on the map as a major river-running location. This type of project is not a first for Shipley, whose company developed the hydraulic features in the whitewater course for the London Olympics. An avid competitive kayaker, Shipley is thrilled to be working on the project even though he’s far away from his home in Lyons.

The city feels confident in the choices made regarding the hired project participants.

“I feel like we assembled the best possible team to put this project together, and it’s going to be a tremendous asset to our community, Metz said.

Tony Miely, a local paddler and co-owner of the 4 Corners River Sports store on Camino del Rio, also expressed excitement.

“In general, I think most of the paddling community is very excited to have a new whitewater park,” he said. “Durango was one of the first towns in Colorado to have a whitewater park – it was the original Smelter Rapid.”

Phase 1 of the project will be completed in the spring, and the river then will be open to the public. The entirety of the fully developed park with amenities will not be completed until the end of 2014, Metz said.

Those involved with the project believe there will be a huge economic impact and that the park will host many national and international visitors.

“This was one of the leading whitewater parks in the world,” Shipley said. “It’s no longer that world-class course. It’s that world-class course plus so much more.”


If you go

A “community visioning meeting” for Whitewater Park will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Durango Community Recreation Center. The city is working with a design team to develop shoreline amenities for the project, which includes in-stream improvements already underway. The meeting, hosted by Durango Parks & Recreation, is open to the public. A 5 p.m. open house will be followed by a 5:30 p.m. presentation.

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