Pitkin County launches work on long-awaited whitewater park in Basalt | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County launches work on long-awaited whitewater park in Basalt

Pitkin County Attorney John Ely makes a point Monday while leading a media tour at the site of a whitewater park on the Roaring Fork River in Basalt. The work will also improve the water-scoured riverbank behind Ely.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

Heavy machinery will be working in and along the Roaring Fork River in Basalt for the next several months on a whitewater park long envisioned by Pitkin County.

An excavator started clearing a side channel Friday that will temporarily handle the river flow during work in the main channel this fall and possibly into the winter, according to Pitkin County Attorney John Ely, who has helped steer the project.

The whitewater park will be developed on a short, undeveloped stretch of the river between Fishermen’s Park and the string of commercial development that starts across from the Basalt fire house.

While leading a media tour Monday, Ely said the project will provide numerous benefits. Two “waves features” will be installed in the river for use by kayakers, rafters, paddle boarders and tubers. The riverbank that provides the foundation for Two Rivers Road will be repaired. Higher water flows could result in a healthy fishery.

The nuts and bolts

Diggin’ It Riverworks Inc. of Durango is the contractor for the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers program. Workers are clearing a shallow, natural depression where the river used to flow on the south side of the main channel. Numerous small willow trees were clipped and are being preserved in the river for replanting. Small pines were excavated intact for reuse.

A temporary dam will be installed to divert the water into the side channel for about 400 feet. The river will flow into a system of large pipes and then into a series of three settling ponds to filter sediment before the water finally washes over cobblestones before re-entering the main channel.

The project is starting now because the river flow is at its lowest level, with snowmelt long gone.

The two structures that create a wave effect will be separated by about 150 feet. There will be two concrete pilings driven at each location. They will be capped with material that resembles natural-looking rock, Ely said. The “rocks” will be submerged in high water but visible in lower flows.

The structures will create a wave that water enthusiasts can play on, with a calmer pool just downstream.

“The upper one will be a little more radical,” Ely said. The lower structure will be gentler so it will be accommodating to beginning kayakers, tubers and the like.

“At the end of the day, I think we’ll be very comparable to Salida,” Ely said. Salida has a very popular whitewater park accessible from its downtown.

Pitkin County Healthy Rivers budgeted $770,000 for the Basalt project.

Fix the road foundation

An added benefit will be fixing a section of the north river bank that was undercut by flooding in 1995 and ate away a portion of Two Rivers Road. The Colorado Department of Transportation undertook emergency repairs by dumping boulders, chunks of concrete and material to fill the void. Vegetation never returned, and the riverbank appears to be slowly eroding along about a 200-foot stretch.

“I think there’s a limited life to this bank,” Ely said. The county’s work will create a more stable base for the boulders and the steep bank up to the road.

The excavator and other heavy machinery will enter the river during the last week of September, according to the schedule. The goal is to restore the river to its natural channel by Dec. 1, though the county’s permit allows work to continue into February, Ely said. The work avoids trout-spawning times.

“I think the disturbance, ecologically, will be very short-lived,” he said.

Once the project is completed, Pitkin County will be entitled to call water down the Roaring Fork River in certain circumstances. That will benefit a stretch of river that often suffers in dry summers.

No passage during work

Pitkin County is asking boaters and anglers to avoid that stretch of the river during the work. It coincides with a time when few people would be on the river at that point because of low flows. The site is above the confluence with the Fryingpan River.

Access has to be restricted for safety, Ely said.

“No boating, and obviously you’re not going to have much luck fishing while the waters (are diverted),” Ely said.

The project also will include widening the boat ramp at Fishermen’s Park to the east and adding parking there.

The finished project will include emergency access down the steep north bank. However, Ely anticipates river runners will use the south side to access the park for practical reasons. After going through the wave features, kayakers can grab their craft and walk back up the cobble stone beach to re-enter the water, he said.

There also is public vehicular access to the area via Emma Road.

The town of Basalt is contemplating what type of streamside amenities it wants along the site.