More whitewater park work to begin next week in Basalt |

More whitewater park work to begin next week in Basalt

Wave at the Basalt whitewater park
Aspen Times FIle

Pitkin County will begin construction next week on the latest fix to a whitewater park on the Roaring Fork River in Basalt that some said was too dangerous during high water last summer, sources said Wednesday.

“The primary goal of the adjustment is to improve high-flow navigation from runoff,” said Quinn Donnelly, an engineer with River Restoration of Carbondale, which designed the park. “(High water) was creating big holes and people were flipping.”

Contractors next week will begin altering two man-made concrete wave structures in the riverbed to make them less difficult to navigate during high-water conditions, Donnelly said. Crews will move around boulders and create ramps to better flush water through the area and create a wave-train, he said.

“The goal of this winter’s work is to strike a better balance between the fun surfability of the waves and their high-water navigability,” Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board Chairman Andre Wille said in a news release Wednesday. “The end result will be wave features that are easier for river runners to bypass at high flows.”

Despite repeated requests Wednesday for how much the project will cost and where the money will come from, a spokesperson for the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board declined to release it. The park was initially built for $770,000 with Healthy Rivers funds, though it’s not clear how much has been spent since then to tweak it.

This winter’s project will mark the second time the whitewater park has had to be re-engineered because of safety concerns.

The whitewater park is located downstream of Fisherman’s Park and the Upper Basalt Bypass Bridge and was built in 2016-17. It was re-engineered in the winter of 2018 after local boaters complained that the artificial waves were hazardous, but low river flows in 2018 did not provide an adequate test of the new structures.

Then came last year’s big runoff from a heavy snow year. When flows reached 2,500 cubic feet per second in June, the two wave structures created holes that flipped boats and sent boaters for long, cold swims in what was previously considered an easy stretch of the river.

One rescue volunteer said at the time that the first wave structure was a “keeper” that held boats in the hole. Basalt Councilman Auden Schendler termed the first wave a “death hole” in September and urged his fellow board members to do something about it.

The Healthy Rivers Board held a public meeting in October, when it took public comment about how to improve the park. Donnelly said he and members of his firm then met with members of the board twice to plan the redesign.

The contractor, Diggin’ It River Works, Inc., is already staging and probably will be in the river by next week, he said. The area will be closed to the public during the construction, including fishing along that stretch of river, Donnelly said.

Crews will use a bypass channel previously constructed to divert the river around the construction area, he said.

The work is scheduled to be done by March 1, though the permit allows the work to be extended another two weeks.

However, associated construction traffic will occur until April 30, according to a Healthy Rivers and Streams email.