Whitewater Parks Explained

Kayak and Rafting Parks – A Primer

Whitewater Parks come in two main flavors. Traditional whitewater parks, often called “kayak parks” or “Whitewater Kayak Parks” are simple modifications to a natural river. These often take the form of dam modifications—to allow for safe raft and kayak passage as well as recreational boating—and in-stream modifications—that are additions of rock drop structures to an existing river to create play-waves and turbulent whitewater. Both of these types of whitewater kayak parks are made with natural and native materials and plantings and are designed to mimic and restore the natural aquatic and riparian zone habitats. Visitors are often surprised to find that these parks are man-made at all!

These traditional kayak parks are valued not only for the tremendous amount of river play that they accommodate, but also for the economic impacts that they provide to a given community. Parks such as the Clear Creek Whitewater Park in Golden, CO and the Vail Whitewater Park in Vail, CO create millions of dollars of economic impact per year. These impacts are all external to the whitewater kayak park, which is free to use. Instead, these impacts are to local businesses such as hotels, restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores.

The second main flavor of white water parks are the pumped whitewater “SuperPark”. These parks are often called “pumped whitewater Parks” and “Whitewater Raft Parks”. Whitewater Superparks, are a relatively new type of venue that provides dynamic outdoor attractions that are fun as an individual, as a family, and as a group. These parks create whitewater in a man-made channel using a pump-station and custom designed obstacles. This is typically the type of whitewater park used to host Olympic and World Championship events. The parks are also highly unique: few whitewater Superparks exist on a global basis and those that do are highly utilized attractions. While the parks are Olympic-Standard, they are used by all types of people who vary in ability from visiting novices to top-level and highly trained Olympic hopefuls.

The parks do more than provide recreation; they also provide positive impacts to a community and operator. These parks represent an up-to 20% rate-of-return on investment and can pay themselves off in as little as 6-7 years. The parks are designed to host hundreds of thousands of commercial rafters per year often hosting more than 2000 rafters in a single day! The parks are also dramatic attractions to non-boaters. Often 5-10 people per rafter visit to watch, stroll, eat and shop. Operators typically include “dry-side” amenities for these visitors, which can number upwards of a million people per year, including restaurant and retail as well as alternate activies such as trails, zip lines, challenge courses and kids areas!

There are different processes for the different types of whitewater parks.