$350,000 grant will fuel changes at Basalt whitewater park

A kayaker tests out the Healthy Rivers Whitewater Park in Basalt in summer 2017.
Aspen Times file

Pitkin County and Basalt are getting an infusion of cash to spruce up the Healthy Rivers Whitewater Park on the Roaring Fork River upstream from the confluence with the Fryingpan.

Great Outdoors Colorado awarded Pitkin County a $350,000 grant this week from its Local Park and Outdoor Recreation fund, which will be used for streamside improvements, including an area to watch from the bank and better emergency access.

None of the funding is earmarked for waterpark features, which some river runners had concerns about after the park opened in 2017. Two features were designed, the upper one to create a hole and the lower to create a wave.

River runners attending an open house in fall 2017 told Pitkin County and its engineer for the project, River Restoration of Carbondale, the hole was too “gnarly” and the wave too powerful at high flows. They suggested a “slip lane” on the left bank so that the features could be bypassed at certain times.

Changes were made but the runoff was so low in last year’s drought that they couldn’t be adequately tested, according to some river runners.

There will be five years of monitoring to see if further tweaks are necessary, according to Lisa MacDonald, a Pitkin County staffer who works with the Healthy Rivers and Streams program.

Engineers with River Restoration weren’t available for comment Thursday.

Creating the whitewater park was a secondary goal for Pitkin County. The priority was to protect habitat by keeping more water in that stretch of the river, which was typically hit hard in seasons with low flows. Pitkin County has the ability to call for water in certain circumstances.

Andre Wille, chairman of the Healthy Rivers board of directors, said the project is a “win” for river health and community health.

“For many years, numerous Basalt residents have had a dream to enhance the degraded segment of the Roaring Fork River as it enters town,” Wille said in a statement. The GoCo grant will help Basalt residents and visitors embrace the river and the lands around it, he said.

“Heavily vegetated areas along the riverbank and changing water levels make access to the park difficult,” the county and GoCo noted in a statement.

To improve access and create an environment where spectators would want to hang out, the grant will be used for river-viewing platforms and an elevated boardwalk to encourage exploration on the northern bank parallel to Two Rivers Road. The funds also will be used for emergency access routes and a raised pedestrian crossing on Two Rivers Road.

Restrooms and changing rooms also will be constructed to accommodate increased demand and park usage, according to Pitkin County.


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