New whitewater park in Basalt makes waves with river runners
June 15, 2017
Pitkin County officials said this week they plan to alert river runners about new features in a whitewater park in Basalt, but they don't plan to fiddle with the design.
Signs will be placed at a ramp at Fisherman's Park a quarter-mile or so upstream to make sure people are aware that the features have been added, according to Pitkin County Attorney John Ely. Signs will be posted closer to the features, as well.
The goal, Ely said, it to get river runners out of their craft to scout the site if they are unfamiliar with the changes.
When the flows hit around 2,000 cubic feet per second, the features on the Roaring Fork River across from the entrance to Elk Run subdivision create class III rapids, he said.
"This is not a lazy river," Ely said.
There have been at least two incidents in recent weeks of boaters getting stuck in the hole created by the upstream feature. Neither incident resulted in serious injuries.
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The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams program pursued the park. It budgeted $770,000 for the project and was approved by Basalt.
An upstream feature creates a hole while its companion piece 100 feet downstream produces a wave.
"I've been hearing only positive things about the function of the two features," Ely said.
The county wants to collect input from veteran river runners, according to Ely. He would get an eyeful on social media.
John Shine triggered close to 100 comments when he asked, "What's up with the new white water park in Basalt?" on the Roaring Fork Swap Facebook page on June 11. He questioned if the features were usable in low or high water.
"Did someone mess up the engineering on this one?" he asked.
That triggered predictable troll shots such as "Someone was clueless" and more productive debate.
Basalt resident Bel Carpenter said he uses the whitewater park a couple of times per week and thinks it is a great addition.
Jeffrey Pitts said play waves "rarely come out ideal the first go-round."
Some commenters were concerned about safety, noting there is no alternate access around the features.
"There is no way around at any water level. The upper hole is a sticky pancake ledge hole at all levels. Unusable," wrote Chuck Wood. "The lower hole is getting to be the same, only usable for a few days."
Matthew Ross said the features produce a "trashy wave" that is no good at any water level. In addition, a walkway from the river up to Two Rivers Road will be submerged during high runoff, so access will be "interesting," he said. Ross urged people to comment so Pitkin County will be convinced to spend the money to "tweak it."
Ely acknowledged "you never know what you've got" until it is used for a season. However, he said the county hired a top whitewater park designer and a top builder. River Restoration of Carbondale designed the Basalt park.
Jason Carey of River Restoration said whitewater parks, like natural features in rivers, take on different characteristics in high water. He said it is a good idea for Pitkin County to place signs in general to make people more aware of hazards.
Carey said there is no plan to make alterations after runoff eases to create an alternate route around the features.
"The main way to navigate it is right through the center of the hole," Carey said.
The debate is likely to continue over the next several days because of high water levels. Warm weather has accelerated runoff and Twin Lakes Canal Co. is ending water diversions to the East Slope this week. The releases into the upper Roaring Fork River are expected to increase by more than 600 cfs this week.
Mike Mercatoris urged patience on the Roaring Fork Swap site.
"Please note that you don't build a wave for a two-week peak. You build it for the most use you can get out of it," Mercatoris wrote. "When the water comes down this will be what it is supposed to be — a nice, friendly wave amenity in the valley."