Whitewater park proposal in Basalt moves conditional step ahead
Pitkin County’s proposal for a whitewater park on the Roaring Fork River in Basalt got recommended for approval from the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday night — with 24 conditions.
The commission voted unanimously to advise the Town Council to approve the project despite some major concerns about parking, safety of people schlepping kayaks, paddle boards and inner tubes along Two Rivers Road, and the ability of lesser skilled river navigators to get around structures planned in the river.
“I think this is the kind of project everybody in Basalt would like to see,” said planning commission member Gino Rossetti.
Pitkin County has secured water rights that it wants to use to protect flows in the river from diversions to other watersheds and boost the Roaring Fork River at times of low water. The water rights are tied to recreational uses of the structures proposed.
“We spent a great deal of time and money to get these,” said Laura Makar, assistant county attorney. She said the county would lose the rights if the project doesn’t proceed. Adding to the pressure is the county’s permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the river work. It expires Dec. 7.
The permit gives the county permission to modify a 450-foot stretch of the river “for the purpose of creating a kayaking, tubing, rafting and fishing recreation area.”
Two whitewater features will be added, including precast concrete parts, fake boulders, “modified point bars and riffles” and bank stabilization.
Pitkin County wants to add the structures downstream from the existing Fishermen’s Park, on the east end of Two Rivers Road near the intersection with Highway 82.
“It really has the potential to be the river entrance to Basalt,” Makar said. Basalt would have the ability to add features downstream.
The features will create Class III rapids at average water flows, according to Jason Carey, principal river engineer with RiverRestoration, a Carbondale-based firm designing the project. He said the Basalt whitewater park will be significantly smaller than the existing one on the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. The flow at the Roaring Fork River at Basalt is typically 1,300 cubic feet per second at high flow and 240 cfs at low flow. It can exceed 20,000 cfs at Glenwood.
Planning commission chairman Dylan Johns summed up the board’s sentiments by saying he was in favor of moving the project along but felt there is a need to work out several details. The commission recommended approval so that the river work can proceed, then Basalt and Pitkin County can work on parking, circulation and other issues during the winter. The whitewater park cannot be used until the spring.
The conditions attached to the approval reflected Basalt’s major concerns: more parking along Two Rivers Road, parking for water craft trailers, a walking lane along Two Rivers Road with fencing on the riverbank and road, steps down the steep riverbank for emergency responders and a way for river runners to get around the structures.
The proposal will go before the Town Council on Sept. 8.
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