S2O Design Completes New River Park in Cañon City, Colo.

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.

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