Splash and Dash 

River park moving to drawing board

How many millions will it take to fulfill whitewater dreams?

About 11 years ago, local river sports enthusiasts went to the City of Boise's Department of Parks and Recreation and suggested the city agency transform a quarter-mile stretch of the Boise River into a whitewater recreation park. Three years later, Boise City Council adopted the "River Recreation Plan."

The plan was to design a water park that would cater to families and boating enthusiasts alike, offering different areas that would be appropriate for all skill levels. The reasons for building the park were numerous, but the reality of making it happen would require a firm commitment from the city, as well as from donors. The estimated cost for the park? A cool $4.3 million.

Mayor Dave Bieter and the Boise City Council have already committed $750,000 for the parks, quite a bit shy of the $4.3 million required for completion. Without a Daddy Warbucks paddling up to front the price tag, the park was put on hold.

Out of need, the Friends of the Park organization was born. The group has contributed more than $250,000 of personal funds, and plans on delivering a lot more.

In March, the City of Boise hired the McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group from Denver, and CH2MHill and Quadrant Consulting out of Boise, to design the park. MWDG has designed more than 20 river parks ranging from recreational parks to the Olympic whitewater course on the Ocoee River in Tennessee in 1996.

"Whitewater parks can be focused on different levels and different activities," said Rick McLaughlin, who heads the design firm, in an interview. From his office in Denver, McLaughlin said he can see Confluence Park, a river park that is used at different times by kayakers, innertubers, rafts and even canoes, he said.

"The biggest user is generally the public," McLaughlin said. "People come by to watch."

Boise's park is planned for the section of the Boise River downstream from the Main Street Bridge that was channelized in the middle of the last century. The general proposal includes features like in-river drops, chutes and boulder obstacles. Also luring whitewater junkies will be a 1,900 linear feet of whitewater, and a flat water system connecting three existing lakes via a slow-moving stream. The "lazy river" stream will allow less experienced kayakers to hone their skills and will be around 200 yards long. The water park will also be adjacent to the 55-acre planned Esther Simplot Park, which will have fishing ponds, play areas, sports fields, picnic areas and rest rooms. The city is hoping for construction to begin in the fall, with work being done on Esther Simplot Park simultaneously.

Earlier this month, Boise Parks and Rec held an open house at Whittier Elementary to introduce the park's design plans and to get the public's feedback. About 100 people showed up for the meeting. Most were boaters, some were neighborhood residents. All were curious about the status of the park, and all seemed to be very eager for development.

"I'm very supportive," said Brad Nelson of Eagle. "I think the area that it's going into is a mess. It's going to be great just to have the area cleaned up and restored, and to bring people to the river.

"I'm mostly involved in play-boating, whitewater kayaking. We've been needing something like this in Boise for a long time. A lot of areas with much smaller boating communities have already started establishing these things, so we're kind of behind the curve on this, so it's just great to see it happening," he said.

Terri Pickens of Boise added, "We need a local rec area that's good for beginners, advanced, and everything in between. I want somewhere I'm not afraid to bring my daughter."

Also pushing up his sleeves to help raise funds is local East Junior High teacher Sam Goff. Together with Bill Driscoll, Goff organized Payette Boise River Whitewater Revival, known affectionately as "PBR." The group was chosen to host the 2008 National Rafting Championships this year. In 2007, PBR gave $1,500 to the park fund, a number which they hope to double this year.

McLaughlin said the park should be called a "river recreation park," to better reflect a wide array of users. Although he was surprised to find a number of so-called "squirt boaters" approach him at the forum, he said it was important for people to know that the park is for more than just talented whitewater boaters.

"It's not just a kayaker's park," he said. "All of these users mix to add value. It's really up to the people of Boise to define what a great venue is."

At the forum, questions varied from issues around parking availability, how the Greenbelt would be affected, to boogie and bungie board usage. The question-and-answer session went on and on, but the most common question on people's minds had to be, "When will it be done?"

Another meeting is planned in May, to review the conceptual design. Boise Parks and Recreation will announce the meeting date later this month.

For more information on the Boise River Recreation Park, go to boiseriverpark.com; for fund-raising events, visit PBR's Web site: pbrkayakevent.com

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