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.
When London needed a world-class whitewater park for the 2012 Summer Olympics, they turned to a former world champion kayaker to build it, and the company delivered something entirely new when it made a course with the future in mind.
Shipley won the ICF World Cup three times and competed in three Olympics between 1992 and 2000. He subsequently launched S2O to create whitewater parks, both in-stream and pumped, as well as river engineering projects.
Shipley estimates that the company has worked on a total of roughly 150 projects, which are often completed after up to eight years of work, and help towns and cities revitalize both rivers and riverside economies.
For instance, the S2O designed the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, which has hosted the U.S. Olympic team trials for whitewater sports, and is the largest pumped whitewater course in the world — generates roughly $22 million a year in income for the city and another $40 million a year in external effects like lodging and dining, according to Shipley.”When you talk to the economic director of Charlotte he’ll tell you that they . . . were a NASCAR and a banking town, and he’ll say, ‘Now, our number-one attraction is whitewater,” he says.
The company has also developed in-stream projects in Durango and Vail in Colorado. Shipley says the Durango Whitewater Park “has about a $9 million economic impact for that town and rejuvenating that whitewater park was a huge thing for them economically.”
S2O rethought whitewater park design and created the patented RapidBlocs system, which debuted at the London park for the 2012 Olympics. “When we got into designing the 2012 Olympic course, there was some pressure there to meet this objective of having that course be state-of-the-art 10 years into the future,” Shipley says. “So how do you forecast what it’s going to change to? That became the big question. What we came away with was you don’t you you create a course that can change with it.”
Previous designs of whitewater parks would only allow course setters to change about 2 percent of a course. Made by a U.K.-based manufacturer, RapidBlocs are rotomolded polyethylene blocks and shapes secured by standard, 18-millimeter bolts that allow for constant tweaks.
“This obstacle system we made allows you to completely reconfigure a course so that the Olympic course people raced on in 2012, they can go in and change where all the eddies are, and where all the waves are, where all the features are,” Shipley says. “So it allows the course to evolve with the sport. It has is tertiary benefit, you can tune it to exactly what you want. And also you can tune it down, you know later for people like rafters who are going to be want to come out and do easier whitewater.”
A seven- or eight-foot drop-off can be reconfigured into a minor rapid or eddy in less than a day with little more than a speed gun and different RapidBlocs. Shipley notes that if they’re in a water park and people keep having issues at the same feature, designers can quickly change the feature.
They’re now being used in every announced Olympic whitewater park. “They’re just being installed in Tokyo — we actually have a guy over there right now,” Shipley notes. “They have already been installed in what will be the Paris 2024 games course.”
The company also redevelops rivers and streams for flood mitigation projects or to reclaim riparian habitats and the wildlife in them. Shipley encourages communities to take a nature-based approach.
“The river restoration side is a lot of people calling up and saying we analyzed our river, it’s concrete on both banks. We shoved it into it a canal and it’s killing the fish and it’s killing the environment here,” he says. “We can do that restoration and bring the fishing back and bring back the the riparian habitat and at the same time tie that into a recreational master plan that allows for stream-side access.”
Customers often come to S2O with projects on existing dams; they want fish and recreational passage, but want to keep the dam. “That’s an ideal scenario for a whitewater park,” says Shipley. “We’ve got a couple of those were doing right now and they’re fantastic projects because if you’re solving a ton of problems.”
Shipley estimates that the company’s breakdown of projects is roughly about a third in each category: whitewater parks, in-stream whitewater parks, and flood and other river engineering. “That distribution changes from day to day. We’re doing a lot of public stuff right now, but at the same time actually we’re building a lot of in stream right now, and we’re designing a lot fun stuff. And so it really evolves from one to the next.”
S2O is evolving its approach to building whitewater parks to how people are recreating. That includes paddle boarding and river surfing. “We’re coming out with a bunch of new RapidBlocs designs that will allow us to put in standing surf waves for surfers on rivers,” says Shipley. “That’s been a big challenge for us and we’re spending a ton of money on that and doing a bunch of research on that kind of out of our own pockets. In this industry that’s never happened before.”
Challenges: “We are evolving in a way designed to match how the use of these parks changes,” says Shipley, noting that will include the development of new RapidBlocs offerings.
Opportunities: Growing the whitewater economy. “We’ve learned that the casual user will come and go rafting and go,” says Shipley. “But if you can create a resort experience around it, they’ll come, go rafting and then they will go to the restaurant and they’ll rent that cabana and they’ll start to try some of the other activities like zip-lining or climbing walls, and mountain biking, things like that. Then we draw them into an all-day experience which is all about healthy active outdoor lifestyles, and so for us, those are kind of two things that we’re really pushing.”
Needs: “There’s a really uncomfortable growth from 10 [employees] up,” Shipley says. “Right now, frankly, we’ve got so many projects that we kind of got our heads down on a bunch of this stuff and are just working away at it. I suspect when we get a little more breathing room, we’ll attempt to think about some of those things.”
Eagle completes nation’s newest, and ambitious, whitewater park
Randy Wyrick Vail Daily January 9, 2019
EAGLE — The river part of Eagle’s ambitious river park is done, and even the fish appear to be happy about it.
Hobbs Excavating crews recently finished the fourth of four in-river features.
S2O Design, one of the world’s premier river engineering and whitewater design companies, designed the in-river features.
“This setting matches the river’s natural morphology and utilizes the existing river channel really well,” said Scott Shipley, the founder and president of S2O Design. “It will surely be a new focal point for the town.”
Shipley knows what he’s touting. He’s a three-time U.S. Olympian and five-time World Cup slalom kayak champion.
The park has been on Eagle’s wish list for years, town Trustee Matt Solomon said.
“This will truly connect the soul of the river to the heart of our valley,” Solomon said.
Local boaters are checking the park daily to see if the ice has melted enough to get into the river.
“This park is going to make a huge, positive impact on Eagle as well as all the other nearby river corridor communities,” Ken Hoeve, former pro kayaker and standup paddler said. “The park is going to put Eagle on the map as a great paddling destination.”
FAST WATER AND FISH
The in-river part of the project took two years to build, but the process started long before that with a feasibility study, then design and a detailed hydraulic modeling. The first two features were built last winter and spring when the water was low.
Crews were back in the water last fall, and finished the other two river features in late December. The features create waves, eddies, chutes, and drops to play in for anything from tubes to surfing, standup-up paddling and kayaking.
The park was the first built with S2O’s RapidBlocs that allows the features to be fine-tuned depending on water flows. That will lengthen the boating season in the park.
“We’ll be able to tweak them however we need to,” Shipley said.
S2O also designed the riverbank improvements, and included a bypass channel around the two upper features serving as a recreational safe route and a fish migration pathway, and mid-stream fish channels in the lower section so fish can migrate upstream.
After Colorado Parks and Wildlife expressed some concerns about fish migration, the two features built this winter were modified, with crews installing concrete half hemispheres to make it easier for the fish to move.
WORKING WITH THE FEDS
Because the whitewater park was built in a river, the town had to work through the federal approval process with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and other groups.
“The knowledge and experience from all of these groups has made it a smooth project considering the extent of the undertaking,” said Jeremy Gross, Eagle’s marketing manager.
S2O Design is completing whitewater parks on the Poudre River in Fort Collins, on the Arkansas River in Canon City, and on the Boise River in Boise, Idaho.
In 2016 Eagle voters approved a 0.5 percent sales tax to pay for the park and trail improvements. The entire park is scheduled for completion later this spring.
Safe Navigation at Low-Head Dams can be a challenge. Many of these dams have had significant safety issues involving people flowing over the dam and into a keeper hydraulic that led to fatal results and dangerous rescues. Until recently, these dams, which often reside in towns and cities that once relied upon them for cheap energy, have been an unmitigated risk. However, S2o Design and Engineering has begun redesigning low-head dams to create a safe boater bypass, and often the resulting design creates attractive recreation.
Dams provide energy, water, and can mitigate flooding, but, unless they are designed correctly, dams can be hazards to in-stream recreation and a barrier to fish passage. Some of these dams, such as the Bow River Weir, have killed or injured more than 21 people. These features are virtual drowning machines. The unfortunate reality of these dams is that many of them were built early in the 20th century and few of them are designed with recreational boating nor kayakers in mind.
S2o Design and Engineering has been working with many clients to improve the level of safety at these dams. S2o works to either help remove the dam, if it is no longer needed, or to preserve and reinforce the dam while creating recreational rapids below the dam in lieu of the dangerous keeper left in the original design. S2o’s clients include everyone from small diversion dams, such as the Supply Ditch, for which we completely redesigned and rebuilt their dam, to Duke Power, who is building a large boater bypass on a 14’ high dam in the Catawba River.
The purpose of these projects is to create a navigable river, where people who are qualified and equipped to be out paddling are able to navigate the weir or low-head dam without fear of being pulled under. We work with the client to ensure that a proposed solution meets their budget, is appropriate for the environment in which it is placed, and provides for safe navigation.
S2o Design and Engineering designs these bypasses several ways. The process can include anything from detailed physical modeling as we did for the Catawba Dam in South Carolina and the Bow River Dam in Calgary, AB; three-dimensional computational fluid dynamics modeling (CFD) as we did for the Thurman Mill Diversion in Boise, CO; or through known geometry and one and two-dimensional modeling as we did for the Lyons Ditch Diversion, the Supply Ditch Diversion, and the Pueblo Whitewater Park and Diversion project.
One of our most common tasks at the outset of a whitewater park project is to initiate the effort with a Conceptual and Feasibility Design Study
My name is Dusty Stinson—owner and founder of Coosa Outfitters in Gadsden, Alabama. Our outfitter’s store has the distinction of being the best place to buy whitewater boats and equipment in the “Store not near Whitewater” category. We are located just off of interstate 59 and have a thriving business in spite of the fact that there is no whitewater in this town today. I believe that our existence alone showcases the opportunity to create whitewater in this town. We already know that whitewater people come to Gadsden; I want to build a whitewater park here so that they will stay.
Gadsden is a former steel-mill town. We’re the type of place in which you would least expect to find a whitewater park. People here are traditional and our economy has historically been based on traditional means. Now that the steel mill is gone things are changing in Gadsden—we are proud of our heritage as a manufacturing center but would also like to evolve our economy to the realities that now surround us. One of the ways I’d like to do this is to develop a whitewater park that showcases our Town’s history and that draws people into town to learn a little bit about us and maybe drive our economy a little by staying in a hotel or eating in a restaurant.
I worked with my Town to try and find funding options for the project through a number of differing avenues but, to be honest, a whitewater park is a new concept for most folks here and it was hard to gain traction. In the end I read about Scott Shipley at S2o Design in a magazine and began to work with them to see if they could help our project develop a vision and get off the ground. Gadsden was willing to foot the bill for a site-visit and concept design study and Scott flew out to meet with myself, the Town Mayor and Town Manager, and the local Tourism Director.
Within six weeks S2o had identified a site, developed a concept design, project cost, and report that described the challenges and opportunities for the project. This information mapped the way-forward for our project by giving me something I could speak to—here is what the project looks like; here’s what it does; here’s what it costs; and here’s how we get it moving. This was something that we could use to get the project off the ground.
The design that S2o used was also highly innovative. S2o chose a site that was at an existing dam and created a design that would leverage the energy there while providing for fish passage and improving navigation on our creek. The site also had ready-made raw materials to create access, parking, and streamside amenities. My favorite part of the project was S2o’s suggestion—and architectural rendering—that utilizes the old pump-house located at the dam as a possible future vendor operation. This was exactly the kind of design that would drive visitors to come of the Interstate and experience both the whitewater and a piece of the town’s steel working history.
The in-stream design was also innovative in that it uses adjustable obstacle systems to tune the wave for varying flows. I needed a park in town that would work at low flows for tubing and lessons and at higher flows so that people would come here to boat when the surf was “up”. This high-tech solution met all of these requirements and more.
Work with your local town or city to get these things started. Its something that is going to benefit everyone and having your City on board from the start is going to avoid a lot of heartache later
Your first objective is to get this Conceptual Design Study done. The last thing you want to do is be in the Mayor’s office or a town council meeting trying to sell a project that is completely abstract—you need a plan, a cost, and a route to completion.
Understand your users and design to them—S2o did a great job of this, they understood our Town and so leveraged our Steel-mill Dam and Pumphouse to showcase our history, they understood that we would draw people from the highway who were not yet boaters so designed for tubing and rafting, and they understood we wanted whitewater for the expert as well as beginner so innovated an adjustable design.
A write-up from one of S2o Design’s happy whitewater parks users. We’ve heard from many different users who ended up loving a whitewater park:
I’m Michelle Kvanli, one of the founders of Red River Racing in San Marcos, Texas. We are a non-profit organization that works to get people into kayaks—some for the purposes of going on to be champion racers, some for the joy, challenge, and therapy (yes therapy) of being in a kayak. We run trips around the country and internationally, but base out of San Marcos. Our property abuts the San Marcos river just downstream from downtown.
The Rio Vista dam has always been a high-point of our program. It was a simple single drop structure until it failed in 2006. We called our friend Scott Shipley, now of S2o Design and Engineering to come work with the City to fix the dam and preserve our best whitewater. S2o did more than that and created an all-access whitewater park that is used by thousands of people every year. These folks swim, wade, inner-tube and kayak at the site on a daily basis. In fact, the new park was seeing so much additional usage that they added lights so we could paddle at night.
The park has had a tremendous effect on our program and on our town. We now have slalom gates at the Whitewater Park year round. This has allowed us to host national-level slalom events such as the 2008 Olympic Trials qualifier. It has also supported a growing group of active racers that use the site. We also have play boating and surfing at the park. The draw from this park has had a tremendous effect on our town. Talk about economic impact! The park is used by so many people that the City hired additional rangers to help monitor the crowds.
The park has also allowed us to play a key role in the Wounded Warrior Program. Red River works with returning vets who have been injured or who are still working to integrate themselves back into being home. We work with them to get them into boats and challenge them—both on the water and off—in an effort to help them find some stability in their own lives. This is a very exciting program both for our City and our Country so I am excited that the San Marcos Whitewater Park allows us to make this happen.
–Michelle Kvanli, Co-Director, Red River Racing
Bring in a designer like S2o who will think of your park holistically—not just as a whitewater park. Scott’s work to remove the concrete walls and create access for people of all ability levels adds a lot to how this park is used.
Design for all types of visitors—not just top level kayakers.
Create spaces for events and for programs—these are what provide the most impact to your “dry side” community!
Welcome everyone to your park including the inner-tubers and waders and BBQ’rs. This is not just about top level niche athletes!
S2o specializes in the physical modeling of whitewater parks and the Physical Modeling of other Hydraulic Structures. Here is a summary from one of our clients about the Physical Modeling of the London 2012 Olympic Venue at the Lee Valley Whitewater Centre:
Physical Modeling of the London Whitewater Canoe Slalom Venue
I own and operate an engineering firm in the United Kingdom. Ostensibly, I would be a competitor to S2o as I also plan, design, and implement whitewater parks. Instead, however, we tend to partner on projects around the world. S2o’s business model, much like my own, is unique. We are engineering firms that are formulated to fit seamlessly within a larger design team. On many of our projects we team with local site/civil engineers as well as contractors, electrical engineers, architects or whatever the case may bring. Our role—and one that S2o manages very well as well—is to make that larger team stronger and to bring unique expertise in white water design.
S2o and I have worked together on several projects including the London Olympic Park located in Lee Valley near London. The London Park was a rush project as, by the time we became involved, construction had already started and design work had lagged. What was needed was a two-part team, one to manage the project from the UK side—going to meetings, understanding client needs, and coordinating deliverables. From the other side we needed hard data and we needed it quickly. We needed computer and physical models that would substantiate our design and design changes and we needed tools that would convince the Olympic Development Authority and its stakeholders that these whitewater channels would meet, or exceed, their specifications. What we needed was a professional design team that was going to get this job done, and done accurately and quickly.
As a team we hit the ground running and worked seamlessly to create what has been universally called the “best, and most modern, whitewater park in the world”. S2o’s design process, advanced software, and modeling techniques meshed seamlessly with our own such that, though we live on opposite sides of the Atlantic, we were able to collaborate effortlessly. Within three weeks we had created the necessary computer models to show the client that we needed a physical model, within six more weeks we had designed and built the world’s largest physical model ever constructed for a whitewater park. It was a 1:10 Froude Scale model constructed at S2o’s facility in Boulder, CO (USA) and it gave us a place where the British Canoe Union, the Olympic Delivery Authority, and other stakeholders could wade into the future Olympic Channel and measure and evaluate the velocities, the waves, the eddies, and other whitewater characteristics with their own hands. That one model was all it took to move a project from stalemate, to approved design by all parties. Within 12 more months we would paddle on that same course as it was being approved by the International Canoe Federation for competition for the next games. This was a project where the Physical and Computer Models—and the professionalism with which they were made—defined the project.
Start with the best design team you can find—one that has completed projects accurately, on time, and to the expected standard. You don’t want to change mid-stream and expect a rush job.
All great whitewater parks are team efforts. You need to pick a whitewater design team that works well as a team. The best metric of this is “how many projects have you finished recently?” If they’re getting projects done, they are good teammates.