Making the Case for Whitewater Parks

The 4 Main Benefits a Project Can Bring to a Community

Eagle River Whitewater Park, Eagle, CO

River engineering projects are growing exponentially, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. Some of these are prompted by dated, hazardous hydroelectric dams that were installed at a time when there was little regard for fish passage, local environmental sustainability, and community engagement. Others are smaller, community-focused in-stream whitewater recreation attractions driving recreation and tourism. While the scope of these are vastly different, the result is always more and safer access to rivers and more enthusiasts (kayak, canoe, SUP) participating .

Developing an in-stream whitewater park varies widely in complexity and cost depending on location, intended uses, economic conditions, and the local political environment. It’s important to understand the overall benefits a project can deliver.

Quality of Life — River-based inspire a community to reconnect with its river in ways not previously available, providing opportunities for outdoor recreation, leisure, community events, and more. When paired with adjacent land development and waterfront revitalization efforts, they become gathering places that attract walkers, families, picnickers, and spectators.

Environmental — River modification usually includes the restoration or rehabilitation of in-stream and riparian habitat. This improves river system and ecosystem functions, and can often support municipal flood mitigation strategies.

Economic — Whitewater parks across the country are generating substantial economic impacts for their host communities as users spend money at local restaurants, lodging, and retail establishments. These venues open the doors to other recreational opportunities such as zip-lining, rock-climbing, concerts/festivals, hiking, and biking, attracting a broad array of users and corresponding revenues. A whitewater park’s economic contribution depends largely on the park’s scale and market size, with smaller parks shown to generate incremental spending in the $500,00 to $750,000 range per year while larger parks contribute as much as $19 million annually to local economies. 

Branding — Whitewater parks provide communities with a closer connection to their rivers and become focal points for outdoor lifestyle experiences. They serve as destinations for outdoor recreation‐based tourism, supporting a community’s overall image and brand.

Importantly, creating coalitions and building community support is vital to whitewater park development, irrespective of a project’s scale.

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