Local paddler tests the waters...
By Robert Downes
Imagine this: you grab your paddle, jump in your kayak or inner tube, and plunge into the churning thrills of Class III rapids on the Boardman River right off Union Street in downtown Traverse City.
At least, thats the dream of Eric Clone of Boardman Paddle and Pedal in the citys Warehouse District, who is testing the waters for the creation of a $1 million whitewater park just east of the Union Street dam.
The Boardman River in Traverse City has high potential for a whitewater park, Clone says. A consultant was here a few weeks ago and he fell in love with what we have to offer. He says the area could have one of the best whitewater parks in the country.
Clone and consultant John Anderson of McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group are looking at a stretch of the Boardman River that runs a few hundred yards between Cass Street and Union Street. Narrowing the river and downsizing the Union Street dam would create a nine-foot drop; toss in an obstacle course of boulders to create eddies and standing waves and -- voila -- instant whitewater rapids.
This area is absolutely primed for a whitewater park site, Clone says. It wouldnt be a crazy Class IV rapids -- it would be a beginners park that you could enjoy with life jackets and inner tubes or kayaks, with some Class II and III rapids.
Sound crazy? Then consider the experience of the City of Denver, which established its Confluence Park with a whitewater course on the South Platte River in a rundown, former industrial area 16 years ago. The park was so popular that it attracted $4 billion in investment. including Coors Field stadium, Denvers Pepsi Center, REIs headquarters, a Six Flags park, aquarium, childrens museum and residential housing.
Confluence Park cost Denver $4 million, but has generated over $50 million in returns on tax revenue, Clone says.
At the least, Clone believes that a whitewater park in Traverse City would attract kayakers from throughout the Midwest, bringing millions in tourist dollars.
Whitewater parks arent as unusual as one might think. An Olympic course was established on the Ocoee River in Tennessee in 1996, which serves as a park today. South Bend, Indiana, has a park which includes a conveyor belt that takes kayakers and tubers back to the start for another run. McHenry and Dickerson, Maryland; Batavia, Illinois; Columbus, Georgia; and Auburn, California are other communities that have whitewater parks.
Although a park in Traverse City would likely cost more than $1 million, Clone notes that there are funds to be had from a number of sources, including fishery projects, Cool Cities grants, and federal stimulus plan funds.
What about the potential for lawsuits? Would the city be responsible in the event of a drowning?
No, if you make it a free park for people to access and let them know that theyre using it at their own risk, theres no problem, Clone says. Its only when you charge admission and require helmets that the liability goes through the roof.
In that respect, public liability for a whitewater park is no different than that of hundreds of skateboard parks around the country, or of public beaches.
In any case, Clone notes that a course through a short stretch of Traverse City would be more on the mild than the wild side.
Whitewater paddling is put out on YouTube as being this crazy, extreme sport, but its no different than riding a bike. You need training, education and a respect for the rules of the road.
He also notes that there would be graduated skill levels at the park, with the most intense rapids upriver and gentler waters for kids tubing at the end of the course.
Beyond the potential park in downtown Traverse City, an even greater opportunity lies upriver. Recently, Grand Traverse County and the Traverse City Commission voted to remove three dams south of town on the Boardman River. The removal of the Sabin, Boardman and Brown Bridge dams will restore 3.4 miles of the river to its natural state.
In March, Clone, Johnson and city officials, including Mayor Mike Estes, toured the area upriver to discuss its potential as a major whitewater park of national importance.
Clone doesnt anticipate that happening anytime soon, but is thankful that city officials are open to discussing the downtown project. Weve had lots of favorable responses from city officials, he says, adding that the park idea has the support of the Grand Traverse Paddling Club.
Hes trying to raise $8,000 to bring the McLaughlin Whitewater Group in to conduct an assessment of the river and make an architectural rendering of a possible park. The funds might be raised from private donations or government grants. If and when an evaluation of the downtown site is completed, it will be up to city government as to whether to take the plunge on a new park.
Contact Eric Clone at firstname.lastname@example.org.