Ribbon cut, Eagle River Park roars open | AspenTimes.com

Ribbon cut, Eagle River Park roars open

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
Local pro kayaker Ken Hoeve takes the first run through Eagle's new river park following Friday's morning's official opening. Hoeve will be out there every day renting river toys through his new business Eagle Tubing.
Randy Wyrck | randy@vaildaily.com

EAGLE — Let the record show that at Friday’s grand opening of the Eagle River Park, they had to crank up the volume on the PA system because the river was roaring so loudly.

“And that’s a good thing,” Eagle Mayor Anne McKibbin said.

Of bars and barriers

What began as a dream scrawled on bar napkins in Town Board Member Andy Jessen’s Bonfire Brewing is finally a reality — after four years, $5.8 million and a voter-approved sales tax to pay for it.

McKibbin and others thanked all kinds of people, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who pushed through the country’s interstate highway system.

The Eagle River, McKibbin pointed out, used to run at the base of Eby Creek Mesa on the north side of where I-70 is now. When the interstate came through, the river was rerouted. The grade was increased and the water moves more swiftly, which makes it the perfect spot for a whitewater park.

“And we have Ike to thank for all that,” McKibbin said.

Go back a couple of years and what is now a river park was a huge truck parking lot. The river park is actually on Eagle County land and is a shining example of governments cooperating, Eagle Town Manager Brandy Reitter said.

“It has brought new vitality to the town,” Reitter said.

Reitter quoted Eagle County commissioner and Eagle native Kathy Chandler-Henry, who said, “The river park is connecting the heart of Eagle to the soul of the river.”

Speaking of the heart and soul of Eagle, local boaters are already calling the second water feature “The Dave Wave” after whitewater pioneer Dave Eckardt, who died last year. Eckardt wrote the original Colorado whitewater guidebook and lived in Eagle. Money is being raised for official naming rights.

River culture already running

The Bonfire Brewing already has an afternoon surf club, and a local man is making river surfboards in his garage, Jessen said.

“There’s your economic development beginning already,” Jessen said.

Local river legend and pro kayaker Ken Hoeve has the river park’s first business license, Eagle Tubing. He’ll be out there for Sunday’s River Jam, and every day through the summer. For about $10, he’ll rent you river toys to use until you’re too waterlogged to go any longer.

“There’s no time limit, the same way there is no fun limit,” Hoeve said as he scrambled down the rocks and back into the river Friday for another run on his tube.

Winding path to completion

Like the river itself, the path to construction was winding.

First, voters had to agree to tax themselves to pay for it. Because some of the construction happened in the river, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to sign off.

Then Hobbs Excavating crews had to wait until the water went down in the autumn to work in the river.

One of the crews had to pour concrete in sub-freezing weather.

Town officials took a leap of faith when they installed Colorado’s first river block system, which allows the water features to be raised and lowered to extend the season.

Finally, though, the town board cut the ribbon Friday morning.

“It’s the most accessible river park in Colorado,” Reitter said.