The City of Fort Collins, Colo., and its community members had a dream: the revitalization of the Cache la Poudre River corridor. With the river passing through the city’s downtown, it was an invaluable asset that simply needed rediscovering.
South Platte River restoration project will reconnect the city to its iconic urban waterway, improving natural habitat, flood control, and recreation access
Downtown Denver, Colo.’s largest mixed-used development, The River Mile, has tapped S2O Design and Engineering to lead a signature component of this complex, dynamic restoration of the heralded South Platte River. Spearheaded by developer Revesco Properties, this one-of-a-kind neighborhood — comprising 62 acres and ultimately up to 15 million square feet of commercial and residential property — will reconnect the city to its iconic urban waterway, improving riparian and aquatic habitat, flood control, and recreation access.
“With $80 million in federal matching funds, river restoration is the project’s fundamental purpose, and it will be one of the most significant river restorations ever undertaken by a private enterprise, anywhere,” says Gregory V. Murphy, president of Calibre Engineering, The River Mile’s civil engineer. “S2O is helping us develop a design solution that’s in alignment with all the stakeholders’ interests.”
Since 1860, the South Platte River has been highly impacted by urban development. In a major commitment by the developer, in partnership with the City of Denver, the Greenway Foundation, and other environmental experts, the project’s goal is to return the river to a more natural state ecologically and physically. The effort will incorporate sustainability, aquatic and riparian habitat enhancements, and flood control along a more than 1-mile-long stretch of this valuable waterway. The project will also improve recreational access via a trail system leading to new fishing and paddling features. The restoration will add 27 acres of riverside parks and open spaces while energizing this new downtown neighborhood.
A leader in river restoration and development, S20 Design brings a unique expertise in integrating recreation into river restoration efforts. Led by engineer and three-time Olympian Scott Shipley, S2O Design has designed and engineered a variety of highly successful in-stream recreation projects and has served as lead designer of some of the world’s most high-profile whitewater recreation and competition venues.
“We are honored to work with such a talented team in restoring and revitalizing this vital natural resource for Denver,” says Shipley. “We are working with some of the early visionaries in urban floodway restoration including the Greenway Foundation and the Mile-High Flood District. This project will set a new standard in how to approach and realize environmental and flood enhancements while also prioritizing human interaction with the river for recreation and relaxation.”
Restoration efforts will improve this section of the river’s in-stream habitat and its riparian and wetland corridor, with fish benefitting from a fully connected habitat throughout the reach and the removal of thousands of tons of silt and sand. The team will replace the existing floodway configuration with a more natural restoration that will create a narrower, deeper low-flow channel. It will also aid in moving sediment better, which helps prevent flooding, but will also provide cooler water for fish habitat and the opportunity for a multi-stage channel with a vibrant riparian zone.
“S2O Design brings the technical expertise with hydraulic modeling, stream restoration, and recreation design needed to make this project a success,” says Heather Houston, President and Senior Ecologist at Birch Ecology. “They have done a great job of listening and facilitating conversations to realize a successful outcome.”
In the past two years, S20 Design has completed in-channel river parks on the Poudre River in Fort Collins, Colo.; the Arkansas River in Canon City, Colo.; the Eagle River in Eagle, Colo.; and the Boise Whitewater Park in Boise, Idaho.
New guide shows paddlers how to take a local river park from an idea to reality.
LYONS, COLO. (April 1, 2020) – Well-designed, whitewater-centered river parks are transforming underutilized or inaccessible rivers into treasured community assets. Paddlers interested in championing a project in their own community now have a resource to help make it happen: the WHITEWATER PARK TOOLKIT– A Paddler’s Guide to Championing a Local Project. Produced by S2O Design and Engineering, the world’s leading whitewater park design and river engineering firm, the Whitewater Park Toolkit provides an inside look at whitewater park design and development and shares what it takes to initiate a river park project locally.
“We’ve built dozens of successful whitewater parks across the country, and nearly every one was set in motion by a paddler who simply had a vision and took the first step to make it happen,” said S2O Design founder and president Scott Shipley, a three-time Olympian and three-time World Cup whitewater kayak champion. “This Toolkit is designed to foster that enthusiasm and engagement and help take a local river park from an idea to a reality.”
The Whitewater Park Toolkit provides a general understanding of the process, players, and costs involved in building a fun, safe, and environmentally friendly river park, while illustrating that successfully building one requires a mix of planning, preparation, and passion.
The Toolkit includes sections covering site and river considerations, the design and development process, the costs involved, funding opportunities, identifying community stakeholders and key decision-makers, and building municipal and community support. It also addresses the role of the Feasibility Study and Economic Impact Study, and delves into working with river engineering and whitewater park design specialists.
“We’re proud to both create the Toolkit and have it in our arsenal to help river and paddling enthusiasts find their joy in paddling locally,” Shipley added.
S2o Design has planned, designed, and built some of the highest profile whitewater venues in the world, including the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C.; the Lee Valley Whitewater Centre, site of the 2012 Olympics; and the Riversport Rapids Whitewater Center in Oklahoma City. The firm has also designed and built a variety of in-stream recreation projects, including the Durango Whitewater Park (CO), Boise Whitewater Park (ID), Eagle River Park (CO), Poudre River Whitewater Park (CO), and Camphill River Park (Wanaka, NZ). S2O Design has also led numerous river restoration projects, including Denver’s River Mile River Restoration Project, the Canyon City River Master Plan (CO), and St. Vrain Creek Watershed Master Plan (CO).
Poudre River Whitewater Park adds recreation, economic growth to northern Colorado.
Coursing through the heart of downtown Fort Collins, Colo., the Poudre River is now home to the country’s newest whitewater park. Driven by river park engineering firm S20 Design and Engineering, the new whitewater park features a series of waves for rafters, kayakers, and stand-up paddleboarders, a wading area for families, a pedestrian bridge, and extensive bank reconfiguration. The project, located near Old Town at Vine Drive and College Avenue, brings the river back to a more natural state, provides the community a greater connection to the river, and invites economic development to the area.
“The Poudre has always been a classic Colorado destination for river running, and now its recreational amenities will be more accessible than ever,” said S2O Design founder Scott Shipley. “Not only is it a beautiful site for a river park, it’s also a perfect example of various entities coming together to create a great focal point for the town.”
Lyons, Colo.-based S2O Design provided design, planning, permitting, and construction services to the project. S20 was chosen because of its expertise with whitewater park development and familiarity with the market. The park will officially open in September 2019.
Design and construction of the Poudre River Whitewater Park was a complex process with several moving parts and a broad array of stakeholders. S2O Design was charged with converting the dangerous Coy Diversion Dam, which was a barrier to fish passage, into a usable park area that also encourages fish migration. The river features needed to provide low- and high-water functionality to a wide variety of users, with extensive bank restoration and reconfiguration to bolster animal habitat and improve stormwater management.
Funding the $12 million project was achieved through both public and private partners. The city’s Building on Basics tax initiative, a program introduced in 2015 for community improvements, contributed $7 million; the city’s Storm Water, Natural Areas, and Parks and Rec departments contributed $3 million; and private donations totaled more than $2 million, including a $1 million gift from longtime Fort Collins residents Jack and Ginger Graham.
“The Poudre holds a very special place in our city’s history,” said Jack Graham, former U.S. Senate candidate and Colorado State University athletic director who spearheaded the school’s new on-campus stadium. “It has been in need of some TLC for decades and the park’s environmental repairs and restoration, coupled with its recreational features, will bring needed energy and economic development to the River District and downtown.”
Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell added, “The river, and its new park, is a true treasure for our community and a legacy for our future. It will build community, strengthen our downtown, and contribute to our vibrancy and prosperity.”
Bringing the project to fruition was a long time coming. It was formally approved by voters in 2015 as part of the city’s Community Capital Improvement Program, but was in the works for nearly 20 years prior. “We first started talking about it way back in 1986, so it’s great to finally see it come to fruition,” says Tim O’Hara, a commercial photographer who served as the lead fundraiser for the project.
Previous efforts at building a river park there had stalled. Shipley, who holds a master’s degree in Engineering and is also a three-time Olympian and World Cup slalom kayak champion, was able to organize the project’s multiple stakeholders, navigate the long public process, and drive the design decisions that led to its final construction. “A lot of other companies had looked at this, but we were the only ones who were able to get it done,” said Shipley.
S2O Design has completed several other river recreation and restoration projects in Colorado, including the Eagle River Park, Durango Whitewater Park, Canon City Whitewater Park, and Bohn Park in Lyons, Colo.
About S2O Design
S2O Design is an engineering firm specializing in innovative river engineering, restoration, and community-focused whitewater park design. Our team of expert boater-engineers has planned, conceived, designed, and created some of the best in-stream whitewater parks as well as largest and most dynamic recirculating whitewater parks in the world. S2O Design is led by engineer, Olympian, and three-time World Cup Kayak Champion and Freestyle Kayak Champion Scott Shipley. For more information, visit S2ODesign.com.
Located in the middle of downtown on the Boise River, Phase II of the Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation Boise Whitewater Park, designed by S2O Design, officially opened to great paddling panache with a standing- (and surfing-) room only crowd on the river’s banks downtown.
Already close to some of the best whitewater in the country, Boise, Idaho, is now giving paddlers (and surfers) another reason to visit the Gem State: a gem of a whitewater park, whose second phase celebrated its official gran opening and ribbon-cutting on July 25.
With The first phaseof the park already a huge hit with surfers, kayakers and spectators, Phase II, which Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway says is a great addition to the existing park, adds additional in-stream, adjustible features, employing S20’s patented Rapid-Bloc technology.
“It’s a great addition and extension to the existing whitewater park,” says S20 founder and president Scott Shipley, who attended the opening ceremonies to surf the wave himself. “It’s a perfect river and location for this type of park, which should become a great focal point for the town.”
Phase II includes three purpose-built wave features, as well as a rock formation creating additional rapids. The new wave features, spaced 25 to 50 yards apart, allows users to put in at the start of the existing park and circle back through Esther Simplot Park ponds and into Quinn’s Pond, back near the start.
Holloway says the entire park is now “an aquatic complex” that includes spectator seating and Greenbelt paths along both sides of the river between Esther Simplot Park and Veterans Park Pond. “It’s kind of almost two parks in one,” Holloway said.
The park was designed to provide tubers, paddlers and surfers of all levels an environment conductive to recreational and competitive paddling, viewing, and access. The uppermost feature—tested via a
1:4.5 Froude-scaled model constructed in a flume at the University of Idaho Modeling Lab—is designed to be adjustable and to be transformable from a wave to a hole, for surfers and kayakers.
“The model allowed us to create a hydraulic similarity between simulated flows and those in the proposed channel, as well as test and profile varying geometries,” says Shipley, a three-time Olympian and three-time World Cup slalom kayak champion.“The lab could calibrate incoming flow velocities to those predicted by a 2D model, fine-tune tail-water elevation via the adjustable RapidBlocs system, and create a final wave configuration that’s usable by surfers and kayakers and is adjustable across a wide range of flows and hydraulic conditions.”
All we know is that — like the nearby North and South Forks just a stone’s throw away — it’s a gem of a piece of whitewater.
Arkansas River park draws families, paddlers and economic growth to Colorado town.
Cañon City has a new attraction further solidifying the Colorado community’s reputation as a world-class destination for outdoor and river-based recreation. S2O Design and Engineering has completed work on the Cañon City Whitewater Park, a new river and pedestrian playground located downtown featuring waves for all levels of kayaking, standup paddleboarding, and rafting; a whitewater slalom gate system; a fish passage channel; and a riverfront play area for families. The project is part of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan to guide the restoration, enhancement, improvement and redevelopment of the Arkansas River.
“Cañon City has an incredible resource with the Arkansas River running through town,” says S2O Design and Engineering president Scott Shipley, a three-time Olympian and World Cup slalom kayak champion. “We’re thrilled to deliver a whitewater park that gives residents and visitors better and safer access to this iconic river.”
S2O Design was tapped to provide a river masterplan designed to beautify the river corridor, remove existing hazards, stabilize streambanks, improve access points and fish passage, and enhance the river for rafting, kayaking, tubing, and other in-stream activities. S20 Design then oversaw the project’s design, planning, permitting and construction.
The river improvement project was spearheaded by the town’s Whitewater Kayak and Recreation Park (WKRP) committee, which funded S2O’s initial River Improvements Plan and promoted the project to the city council and the public. The park was funded through the City, WKRP, a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, Fremont County, and private donors.
“Cañon City is destined to become a hub for outdoor adventure,” says WKRP committee member Warren Hart. “We believe our new river park will renew interest in our river corridor and be the catalyst for Cañon City becoming another great river town.”
Whitewater parks bring enthusiasts and spectators alike to their respective communities, and create numerous measurable economic impacts through increased property values, direct spending at the site, and tourism dollars spent at local restaurants, hotels and businesses. The estimated annual economic impact on a community can be substantial, with some in-stream river parks reporting impacts as high as $9 million dollars per year.
“Historically, this area has seen mostly industrial use, so our goal was to reclaim and restore this part of the river for broader community value,” says Cañon City economic development director Ryan Stevens. “From an economic development perspective, it’s a great asset for Cañon City’s growing outdoor economy.”
Unlike other whitewater parks that often suffer flow issues, the Arkansas River boasts predictable flow rates year-round. This balances both the magnitude of the recreational experiences for different user groups, and the duration, providing attractive flows for users and events later into the season when flows dissipate in other rivers.
The Cañon City Whitewater Park will also be a draw for slalom paddlers, with boulders strategically interspersed throughout its length for eddies and gates. S2O Design also incorporated the patented RapidBlocs™ system into the park, allowing its features to be adjusted for different configurations and flows. “It’s going to be a great early and late season venue for competitive slalom kayakers to train and compete,” says Shipley, adding that the Canadian Slalom Team has already expressed interest in using it as an early-season training facility.
S2O Design has completed several other river recreation and restoration projects in Colorado, including the new Eagle River Park, Durango Whitewater Park, Poudre River Whitewater Park in Fort Collins, and Bohn Park in Lyons, Colo.
Eagle, Colorado—population 6,500—has mostly existed in the shadows of the state’s massive ski resorts, as in nearby Vail, and its recreational economy. But Eagle, a year-round community for those who work for the big resorts, has plenty to offer, including mountain scenery, a picturesque downtown, and 100 miles of easily accessible mountain biking trails. In spite of all this, it has never become a top-tier destination.
This can be attributed in part to the fact that Eagle never truly took advantage of its natural assets, like its namesake river, which formed the valley that is home to the town today. Fishermen and kayakers have always made use of the Eagle River, but it’s never been a beacon for visitors, despite its high-profile location along the Interstate 70 corridor.
“A stretch of land next to the river used to be a semi-truck parking lot, basically a pee bottle dumping station,” says Jeremy Gross, the town’s marketing and events manager. “It just wasn’t that inviting.”
That’s set to change this Memorial Day weekend, when the town of Eagle will celebrate the opening of a $2.7 million whitewater park locals hope will set off a new era of development in the area, and connect the south bank of the river with businesses and residents downtown. The new Eagle River whitewater park is the result of a multiyear effort to redevelop the river corridor, and will feature a series of artificial rapids, as well as a resculpted, repurposed riverfront, complete with parks and an amphitheater.
It will be the latest example of how smaller towns and cities see riverfronts in general, and outdoor recreation specifically, as new economic catalysts. Former assistant town planner Matt Gross went so far as to call the new park “Eagle’s beachfront.”
“This is just our way of showcasing the asset that we have,” says Gross. “It’s not like we added the river.”
Natural assets get a new lease on life
The Eagle River Whitewater Park is part of a growing number of artificial recreation areas, especially in the Rocky Mountains region, trying to capitalize on the nation’s rapidly growing outdoor economy. Eagle believes the new whitewater park can make the town a more well-rounded and attractive destination, furthering the potential of its promising location near mountain biking trails.
According to a 2017 economic study by the Outdoor Industry of America, activities like camping and water sports benefit America’s consumers, businesses, and government at all levels. These activities generate a whopping $887 billion annually—about $702 billion by travelers and vacationers—support nearly 8 million jobs, and bring in just over $59 billion in state and local tax revenue. For comparison, the entire nation’s financial services and insurance industry generates $912 billion.
Whitewater parks—either parks like Eagle’s that resurface and redesign riverbeds to support outdoor recreation like kayaking and rafting, or “pump parks” that create artificial new bodies of water for sport—represent a small part of the nation’s huge outdoor industry. They aren’t new: The world’s first artificial whitewater course, a concrete-channel course called the Eiskanal, was created for the 1972 Olympics in Munich, where the sport made its Olympic debut, and parks have slowly taken root across the western U.S. since the 1980s.
But now that the idea is firmly established, a number of case studies—including an urban development in Reno, Nevada, and the huge boost Charlotte, North Carolina, saw from a national whitewater training and recreation center—point to such parks’ economic benefits. They’re increasingly being seen as a development tool, not just another entertainment option.
In Eagle’s case, it’s a project for and by the community, says Scott Shipey, CEO of S2O, the company building the park. Shipley, a former world-champion kayaker who competed in three Olympics, says it’s not just a new way to build the sport, but a chance for towns to look at their natural economic assets. The town passed a .5 percent sales tax increase to fund the project.
“A lot of towns have a river running through them,” he says. “In the Midwest, there are dams near towns, which used to power industry, that are rotting away. We can give them an experience they didn’t have before. Just by doing a little bit of manipulation of that river, they can become the Breckenridge of kayaking. These mining and ski towns are starting to leverage this resource.”
Designed with Rapidblocs, a patented S2O system that allows for adjustable riverbeds and rapids, the Eagle Whitewater Park will feature spots for kayakers, rafters, tubers, and even surfers. The waterfront, now filled with parkland and public space, can host festivals and concerts, a big potential boost for businesses downtown.
“Economic development is a slow-moving ship,” says Gross. “Now, with a river park close to town, we’re hoping that increase in business brings the next business to town, and then a few more people, and then suddenly, there’s more development connecting the river to downtown. The river is a big thing we have to offer, it’s a piece of the pie.”
A new addition to beer, bluegrass, and broadband
The renewed push to repurpose riverfront property in more rural parts of the country mirrors what’s happening in urban areas like Brooklyn: With heavy industry and factories gone, games, recreation, and public space have taken their place—and become magnets for people and economic activity.
Existing projects demonstrate that these artificial rapids can really rev up local economies. In Charlotte, the U.S. National Whitewater Center, which opened on roughly 700 acres adjacent to the Catawba River, welcomes 1 million visitors a year, and supports more than 500 jobs. In Durango, Colorado, the whitewater park on the Lower Animas River generates $18 million a year in economic activity, according to an economic impact studycommissioned by local leaders.
Reno, Nevada, offers one of the best illustrations of how river redesign and urban regeneration can work together. The neighborhood around the Truckee River in downtown Reno had become neglected and crime-ridden (“they turned their back on the river, to keep people inside focused on casinos,” says Shipley). Since the $1.5 million whitewater park opened, the streets surrounding the recreation site have seen a boom in new condos, restaurants, bars, and businesses. A 2007 study by the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority found that whitewater recreation attracted 13 percent of the approximately 4.3 million people who visit the city annually.
“There wasn’t much down there before that, but now the downtown river park is a tourist destination,” Ben McDonald, senior communications manager for the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, told High County News.
“There are as many reasons to do this as there are potential parks,” says Shipley. “These parks have millions of dollars in economic impact.”
New developments in water sports
Shipley says the industry, which has steadily grown since he founded his company in 2005, will see more expansion. In addition to the soon-to-open Eagle project, S20 is also working on projects in Fort Collins, Colorado; Canon City, Colorado; and Boise, Idaho. The company’s Rapidblocs system will be used at the site of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and S2O expects more cities, especially in the Rocky Mountain region and the Midwest, to invest in new parks.
Other artificial water sports sites have become an option: Famed surfer Kelly Slater has a company dedicated to creating artificial inland surfing parks, including a site in California’s Central Valley. S2O is also looking at more surfing options, and plans to install new technology to support surfers as part of its ongoing work in Boise, Idaho.
For Eagle’s Jeremy Gross, the river that goes through his hometown has always had potential. But now, it’s more central to the growing Colorado community’s narrative.
“If I’m trying to sell Eagle to you, we’re a quick two hours to Denver, if you leave after work Friday you can be at Eagle by dinner time, and over the weekend, ride 100 miles of trail, bring a board or kayak and get in the river,” he says. “It’s becoming more of a well-rounded destination. We’re an outdoor adventure paradise.”
S2O Design’s founder and president Scott Shipley was the lead designer of the whitewater park at US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C. Today, the USNWC is the largest and most profitable pumped whitewater park of its kind in the world. Its design was tailored to maximize commercial rafting across a broad range of user groups and abilities, from Olympic-level athletes to families. The ¾-mile long whitewater park features four separate channels, including a slalom channel for world-caliber races, the world’s highest-volume big water channel, and dedicated options for beginner experiences. The park attracts more than 700,000 users a year, and boats a $37 million regional economic impact. Learn more about the USNWC and Scott Shipley in this case study.