Supporters break ground on Gore Canyon Whitewater Park
If there’s one thing Coloradans have a hard time agreeing on, it’s water.
But the atmosphere was more than amicable when representatives from multiple Upper Colorado River Basin water interests met to break ground on the new Gore Canyon Whitewater Park on Friday, Nov. 21.
“This is a celebration of a process and more importantly, it’s a celebration of all the people that came together to make this happen,” said Merritt Linke, Grand County commissioner. “I think that’s why we’re here today.”
Funding for the $1.7 million project was secured in part through grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Jim Pokrandt, chairman of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable and a member of the conservation board, said that, traditionally, the CWCB has not funded recreational projects like the whitewater park.
“It was a landmark approval,” Pokrandt said of the board’s decision to partially fund the park. “Hopefully that sets the norm for the next good idea that comes down the pipe.”
Supporters say the new whitewater park will enhance the section of the Colorado River near Pumphouse Recreation Area, which is already popular among rafters and boaters.
“We’re going to bring in about 500 boulders, big granite boulders, and put them in the bed of the river,” said Jason Carey, the head river engineer for the project. “For the most part those will always be under water and rather submerged.”
The effect will be a large play wave, a surface feature popular with rafters and boaters.
Engineers will add another small island to the extant chain just above the recreation area and a channel near the opposite bank.
Carey has completed a number of similar projects, including the popular Glenwood Springs whitewater park.
Kissner General Contracting will undertake actual construction of the park.
While construction is ongoing, engineers will divert the river. It can be a messy process, but the end result is worth it, Carey said.
“Everyone loves sausage but no one likes seeing it made,” Carey quipped. “Well, that’s similar to a river project, so we try and do these in the coldest part of the winter so no one comes down and looks at them.”
Carey he expected construction on the park to be completed by April 1, 2015.
fast track project
While the discussion surrounding water issues in Colorado is often mired in contention and competition, the Gore Canyon Whitewater Park has proceeded comparatively quickly.
Grand County officials first applied for the Recreational In-Channel Diversion water rights for two possible whitewater parks in early 2011.
RICD water rights allow for a call in a certain place on the river for the benefit of non-motorized recreational uses that contribute to water-based recreational and economic opportunities.
At the time, Grand County officials explained that the secondary effect of the RICD water rights would mean more leverage for Grand County in future decisions regarding river uses.
“We want to keep (water) in the river, we want it to flow down the river, we want it to flow out of the county, and that was our charge,” said Lurline Undrbrink Curran, Grand County manager, at the ceremony. “But how do we do that under Colorado water law? This RICD is one of the ways we’re doing that.”
Grand County acquired the RICD in January 2014, helped in part by a favorable recommendation from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“It’s a great recreational amenity for the county and the state,” said Board Member John McClow. “We were very pleased that the parties could agree on terms for a water right that would provide all the benefits to Grand County that were intended and also protect Colorado’s compact entitlements.”
The Bureau of Land Management authorized the park in August 2014.
Stephanie Odell with the BLM said the Pumphouse section of the Colorado River currently sees between 70,000 and 75,000 users days per year.
“We’re actually really looking forward to this feature,” Odell said. “It’s going to be an excellent addition to our recreation area.”
The second proposed park location, near Hot Sulphur Springs, could still be utilized in the future, said Carolina Bradford with Understanding Water Resources.
“We wanted to get the first one built and running before we went back and started thinking about how to build a second park,” Bradford said. “It’s not off the table that Grand County may eventually build another feature at Hot Sulphur Springs.”
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.
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