Whitewater Park to Be Added Next Year
Editor’s Note: Watch a video from last Saturday’s float down the Uncompahgre River through Montrose at www.watchnewspapers.com.
MONTROSE — Montrose has many thriving businesses, including restaurants, hotels and retail stores. Yet there is also a river that runs through it all – and local officials want to develop more of the Uncompahgre, or “Unc,” to draw more boaters and river rats to the area.
Last Sunday, under beautiful sunny skies, members of the Friends of the River Uncompahgre (FORU) hosted a tour of the river from boats launched at an access point behind Chipeta Lake to a take-out near Taviwach Park on the city’s north side.
The tour was developed to give local officials and residents a first-hand experience of the river since improvements were made along its banks earlier this year; the improvements will continue in 2015 as part of the city’s continuing Uncompahgre River Master Plan, completed in 2011.
Along with local boaters, officials from the city, county, Bureau of Land Management, Parks and Wildlife and the Montrose Recreation District clambered into rafts and kayaks for the three-hour float.
Along the way, wooden markers on the river’s banks highlighted both public and private property boundaries bordering the water. Officials and residents are continuing to brainstorm ideas for possible public-property development. With a trained eye, one could see the next phases of the river master plan, which includes the addition of a whitewater park set for construction next year.
The whitewater park will be located between the pedestrian bridge in Baldridge Park and the West Main Street Bridge.
Due to the rising popularity of river sports, the trend in adding whitewater parks has continued in recent years in sites across the country as a way to draw more visitors.
“We wanted to get some ideas on how we make the river safe for families,” said Montrose City Manager Bill Bell. “We’re really trying to give locals who like the fishing or the outdoor recreation a chance to come and do that in a family friendly environment. But we also want to attract visitors and tourists.”
Durango added its “watermark” years ago, incorporating its downtown with the Animas River through boardwalks and a variety of businesses. Unlike Durango, the Uncompahgre River is fed with water from the Ridgway Reservoir and the Gunnison Tunnel. This means water levels can be more sustainable throughout the year, whereas the Animas runs very low later in the summer.
The sustainable water flow offers the potential for Montrose to become a destination for whitewater companies and guides, allowing them to teach and float later in the season.
Another reason for the whitewater park is to give boaters a safer place to have fun in the rapids. With local knowledge, boaters can learn to ride the famed “M-Wave,” a large, continuous whitewater wave located on the south canal, east of Montrose. Using the park – at least at first – and avoiding the M-Wave will reduce the risk of injury, lawsuits and fatalities, according to officials.
“If Montrose has a big enough park compared to Durango, that would put Montrose in the driver’s seat,” said Hank Hotze of FORU. “There is excitement from people, the potential for their hometown to become a whitewater mecca.”
City officials have expressed visions of attracting boaters to stay in Montrose’s local hotels, and to visit its local restaurants and businesses.
To aid in the park’s development, a number of snags and overhanging trees and stumps will be removed. Several residents told officials they wanted park designers to take into account river sediment, which can affect water features such as large rocks and boulders, and the gravel composition of the river’s bottom.
“There’s tons of sediment” to work with, Hotze said. “It’s killer.”
In addition to the park, the city is working to develop a permanent river takeout, at Taviwach Park, where boats can be landed and removed from the water safely.
In February, heavy equipment and surveyors with Evergreen-based Ecological Resources Consultants, Inc., spent weeks digging out a 1,500-foot stretch of the river to improve fishing habitat. The work took place directly south of the fishing bridge in Baldridge Park behind the park’s softball fields.
Re-shaping the river’s channel will not only improve the fishing habitat but also riparian wildlife areas along with entire river corridor, according to Renzo DelPiccolo of Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Montrose.
“There has been a lot more attention given to the river and the corridor and what that all means, and how this is the crown jewel for this community,” DelPiccoio said.
Through grants, lottery funds and city contributions, the cost of renovating the river corridor has amounted to about $900,000 so far, according to Bell.