Basalt teams with Pitkin County to pursue whitewater park
January 27, 2016
Elected officials in Basalt and Pitkin County agreed Tuesday night to work together to try to start construction of a whitewater park on the Roaring Fork River this year.
The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams program proposed the whitewater park in a stretch of the Roaring Fork River just above its confluence with the Fryingpan River. The program acquired a rare water right called a Recreational In-Channel Diversion. It can call for water to the site at high flow times of the year.
"Wave features" would be created in the river for use by kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders, according to County Attorney John Ely, who is one of the leaders of the project. An upper wave has been designed as a "hole" feature for kayakers. A lower feature is gentler. Drift boats and rafts would be able to get by the features.
If all goes as planned, the project would be constructed late this summer and into the fall. It would be ready to use in 2017.
Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said the wave feature would be designed to accommodate people who "can't handle the Glenwood wave" on the Colorado River.
"This will be a lot smaller and a lot more user friendly," he said.
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It could be a "huge amenity" that would attract people to Basalt and the Roaring Fork Valley, said Commissioner Patti Clapper. Colorado towns such as Salida, Buena Vista, Golden and Vail have used water rights to supply successful whitewater venues.
But recreation was only part of the appeal of the project for several officials in Basalt and Pitkin County. Utilizing the water right will keep water in the Roaring Fork River and prevent another party, like a Front Range city, from acquiring the right, noted Commissioner George Newman.
"The kayak park is a tool to do that," he said.
Ely said the critical issue was whether Basalt would see itself as a regulator — and Pitkin County as a developer — or as a partner. Basalt officials said they want to be a partner, which Ely said would make the project more attractive to Great Outdoors Colorado, which awards grants to trails and parks projects.
Several critical issues still need to be hashed out. While the river features are planned out, the riverbank amenities are yet to be determined. Pitkin County held an open house in December and will hold another Monday at Basalt Town Hall. The county also accepted online public comments.
The alternatives boil down to keeping it simple or adding amenities for spectating as well as a trail and additional parking.
Pitkin County staff is going to analyze the public comments, hold additional open houses, then come back to Basalt and lay out the full scope of the project.