Pitkin County wants public input on Basalt whitewater park amenities | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County wants public input on Basalt whitewater park amenities

River runners, anglers and midvalley residents are being asked to wade into a debate about whether a proposed whitewater park in Basalt should be kept simple or enhanced into an event venue.

About 50 curious people attended a meeting hosted in Basalt on Monday night by officials with Pitkin County Healthy Rivers to learn more about the project.

One of the top issues was whether the county, in partnership with Basalt, should just focus first on developing wave features in the river and not enhance the riverbank.

"Do we keep it a low-key locals' kind of thing, or (add) a little spice?" said Pitkin County Attorney John Ely, who was instrumental in pursuing the project. "This reach of the river has a lot of possibilities."

However, the county doesn't want to build a feature that is going to be immensely popular with whitewater enthusiasts, then find out the parking, river access and other infrastructure is inadequate to handle the crowds, said Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper. Public safety must be a priority, she said.

The Healthy Rivers plan

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Healthy Rivers is working on a plan to develop wave features in a stretch of the Roaring Fork River just above its confluence with the Fryingpan River. It acquired a special water right called a Recreational In-Channel Diversion to call water down to the site at high flow times of the year.

Ely said it will initially be a junior water right — meaning more senior water rights will have a higher priority. So, the water right will be of little practical use from September through May, when the river flow is low. It will benefit the whitewater community during high seasonal flow periods, typically from June into August.

The right will become more senior with time.

"Snap your fingers and click off 10 years, and this water right could look pretty good," Ely told the audience at Basalt Regional Library on Monday evening.

Acquiring the water right was "no small task," he said. "These type of projects draw a lot of opposition."

That opposition comes from municipalities, agricultural interests and other parties that believe water should only be allocated for non-recreational uses. However, towns such as Salida, Buena Vista, Golden and Vail have used water rights to supply successful whitewater venues. Pitkin County aims to construct the Basalt features late next summer and into the fall, with use starting in summer 2017.

While the water will be called for recreation, a prime benefit is ecological health, according to Andre Wille, a member of the Healthy Rivers board of directors. Establishing the water right means that water is secured from future diversion.

Kayak and paddleboard features

Healthy Rivers has already come up with a plan for the river features. An upper wave has been designed as a "hole" feature for kayakers. A lower feature is gentler, with stand-up paddleboarders in mind.

The streamside features are yet to be determined. One possibility is building spectating platforms off the riverbank, Ely said. A grander plan could include pulling Two Rivers Road farther away from the river so parking, a trail and spectating areas could be added.

In an informal question-and-answer session, one audience member urged Pitkin County to get moving on the in-stream features and not get bogged down on the streamside planning. The water features inevitably will become a community draw, just as they have in Salida and elsewhere, the man said.

"Let's not wait five years to get that fully hashed out," he said.

Another speaker said the sooner the water features are built, the sooner Basalt business will realize they are a boon to the community.

But a woman in the commercial rafting business said the existing boat ramp across from Fishermen's Park must be upgraded and sight lines improved for when trailers are backing up. Another speaker asked where Pitkin County and Basalt anticipated water users would park.

They were encouraged to go online to submit comments at http://www.pitkincountyrivers.com/healthy-rivers-project—basalt-co.html. Another meeting will be held toward the end of January so the ideas can be hashed out, Ely said.

scondon@aspentimes.com