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BOULDER OUTDOOR CENTER, CIRCA 1990.


PHO T O: ERIC B ADER


MEADOW PARK IN LYONS, COLORADO, UNDER CONSTRUCTION. PHO T O: S2O DESIGN


A half-century has passed since paddling enthusiasts worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to create a whitewater run in Kernville, California, and over 40 years since concrete channels were poured for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Augs- burg, Germany. Best estimate is that there are perhaps 60 whitewater parks in the United States today. These range from Charles City’s $2.8 mil- lion remodeled riverfront to Oklahoma City’s brand new Riversport Rapids, a completely artifi- cial, pumped water park that cost over $45 million to build. Proponents of engineered whitewater proclaim these facilities to be bastions of vibrant communities and inspiration for the next genera- tion of slalom and freestyle boaters. But are they truly worth the cost? Is there something wrong with turning the age-old river experience into a theme park? Typical urban renewal projects focus on so-


called “in-stream” projects, lower cost options that convert dull, dammed, dangerous and some- times polluted waterways into whitewater play- grounds by adjusting the river’s slope and working with natural and engineered structures to create perfectly shaped waves, ledge drops and eddies. An in-stream project with all the bells and whis- tles—several engineered waves and holes as well as a restaurant, water fountain, outdoor concert venue and multi-use trails—costs around $3 to $4 million, or about the same as a twin-pad ice arena. This genre was popularized in Colorado, where


kayaker and engineer Gary Lacy created Boulder Creek Park in his hometown of Boulder in 1990. The $165,000 Golden whitewater park, built by Lacy in 1996, was the nation’s first publicly funded project. Since then, Colorado has emerged as the global epicenter of in-stream whitewater parks, ac- counting for around half the total number in the United States; and Lacy’s Recreation Engineering and Planning has designed the lion’s share. “He’s the godfather, there’s no question about


that,” says Shane Sigle, a former competitive sla- lom boater and water resources engineer who first practiced his trade under Lacy. “A lot of the design technology that happened in the first 15 years of whitewater parks came from Gary.” Sigle, whose Durango, Colorado-based River-


LOW WATER AT THE U.S NATIONAL WHITEWATER CENTER.


PHO T O: P ATRICK SCHNEIDER


wise Engineering works closely with Lacy’s firm, explains there are three components to turning an existing river into a whitewater park: Slope, depth and water volume. He says that the best design- ers, like Lacy, have an innate sense of flowing wa- ter, gleaned from countless hours of paddling. “An engineering background is important,” says Sigle, “but I’d say 40 percent of getting it right is based on intuition.”


www.rapidmag.com | 45


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