Eagle County is key partner for new Gore Canyon Whitewater Park | AspenTimes.com

Eagle County is key partner for new Gore Canyon Whitewater Park

Marissa Lorenz
Special to the Sky-Hi News

GRAND COUNTY — More than 100 people gathered Monday at the Pumphouse recreation area south of Kremmling for the official ribbon-cutting of the Gore Canyon Whitewater Park.

The park, which was completed in March, consists of a man-made underwater structure that creates a series of waves stretching across the Upper Colorado River. The resulting whitewater park area offers a space for kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders and other whitewater enthusiasts to cycle through the waves repeatedly or to continue downstream.

It is the fruition of a five-month construction project designed by Jason Carey of RiverRestoration and built by Bryan Kissner and Kissner Construction.

Monday was an idyllic day to revel in its completion. Attendees gathered at the popular recreation area, stood on the new observation deck and watched kayakers try out the waves. Carey tried out the product of his design for the first time in his kayak. He was joined by Hattie Johnson, RiverRestoration's landscape architect on the project. Bradley Hilton of Grand Lake steered his stand-up paddleboard directly into the surf. Fishing boats floated just upstream, pulling fish out of the carefully protected eddy.

However, the whitewater park is merely the physical manifestation of a five-year collaborative effort for legal water rights, fishery protection and increased recognition and value for non-consumptive water uses in Colorado and the American West.

And it was as much, if not more, the commemoration of this less tangible victory that brought commissioners from Grand, Eagle, and Summit counties together with other invested government employees, water conservationists, water advocates, water planners, water engineers, water attorneys and every other sort of water lover to both celebrate and experience first-hand the success of the Gore Canyon Recreational In-Channel Diversion.

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THE PROJECT'S MANY PARTNERS

Grand County has been the project lead since its inception in 2010. With support from Commissioners Merrit Linke, James Newberry and then-Commissioner Gary Bumgarner, the county would navigate practical, legal and funding hurdles. They would be the primary donor, with government and citizens giving more than $600,000 toward the $1.7-million project.

It was fitting then that Linke would preside over Monday's ceremony, introducing and expressing gratitude to the project's many partners. Recognized were fellow funders from Eagle County ($349,000), the Colorado Basin Roundtable ($100,000), Colorado Department of Local Affairs ($200,000), and the Colorado Water Conservation Board ($400,000). Other essential supporters such as Summit County, Denver Water, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and American Whitewater were introduced and appreciated.

Representatives from each were invited to speak and all who took the microphone articulated their admiration for the wide-impacting triumph of the project, the successful collaboration behind it and the short time frame in which it was accomplished.

"Government timelines are like geologic time," joked Linke, "and this was like lightning speed."

"The times they are a changin'," said April Montgomery, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a group that contributed $400,000 to the project. She praised the project as courageous and said, "It's exciting to be on board at a time when recreational water rights are being recognized and valued on par with traditional consumptive rights, such as for agriculture and industry."

Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry picked up on her theme.

"This river is the life-blood of the West, the soul of Colorado, its history and heritage. The river doesn't care where the boundaries are, the boaters don't care. Eagle County's taxpayer investment was a great expenditure for the RICD, which is critical for scenic and environmental protection and as well as for non-consumptive uses that have not had traditional water rights," she said.

Nathan Fey, of American Whitewater, a stakeholder in the Upper Colorado Wild and Scenic River designation and management efforts, explained that the project was praiseworthy for its ability to create a new water feature with a very small ecological footprint.

"Because of the existing recreation area, the park and observation deck do not conflict with the existing uses and can fill a niche for a Class III park in the area," he said. "Of 28 RICDs in the state, it is the first on the Upper Colorado, and the water rights that accompany it will support local industry and protect against the threat of a water call, shepherding the water downstream to maximizing water use throughout the state."

CUTTING THE RIBBON

Once introductions, acknowledgments and remarks were all made, the bevy of water fans made their way down to the newly-constructed sandstone steps to the base of the water feature. Linke cut the official ribbon and cheers were sent up in salute.

The 100-plus attendees shared in a luncheon provided by Grand County's Wild Horse Catering. Finally, over 30 people either piled on one of two boats provided by Mad Adventures of Kremmling or got on their own raft, kayak or stand-up paddleboard for an enjoyable trip down the Colorado River.

The rafts set off from Launch 1 at Pumphouse and crashed through the water park's waves, joined by the other whitewater enthusiasts who had been surfing the park. The warm sunny day, barring a few obligatory Colorado rain drops, provided a perfect backdrop for bouncing over rapids, jumping into the water, watching majestic bald eagles and learning more about the Colorado River.

"It is a beautiful setting for such a great activity," said Helen Stratakes, who with her husband, Glenn, were visiting from Bristol, Virginia and thought the advertised event would be a perfect way to experience Helen's home state of Colorado.

"You don't know what you're protecting until you're on it," said Helen, with the perfect summary of everyone's experience. "Everyone should do it at least once."

For more information about the Gore Canyon Recreational In-Channel Diversion project, contact Caroline Bradford, project coordinator, at CarolineBradford@wildblue.net.

For information about the Pumphouse Recreation Area or recreating on the Upper Colorado River, contact the Bureau of Land Management Kremmling Field Office at 970-724-3000. Information on commercial rafting companies can be found by contacting the Kremmling Area Chamber of Commerce at 970-724-3472 or the Vail Chamber & Business Association at 970-477-0075.

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