Receiving federal approval to build a whitewater park on the Big Wood River north of Ketchum will take a season longer than expected.
Jennifer Smith, superintendent of the Ketchum Parks and Recreation Department, said it was forecast this summer that the U.S. Department of the Interior would approve the application, submitted by the city and nonprofit Wood River Land Trust, in fall 2011. But it seems the agency is moving slower than it claimed. And permission wouldn't be granted until winter 2011-12.
Smith said the city started planning for the park in February 2008 by applying for a Recreation and Public Purposes permit. The permit would transfer management powers of about 217 acres of federal land from the Bureau of Land Management to Ketchum, serving as a long-term lease and allowing only uses outlined in the permit application. The area follows the river, stretching from the Sun Peak day-use area to the southern edge of Lake Creek. The application's uses include a whitewater park and much more along and in the river requiring relatively little work compared to the whitewater park, such as trails, picnic areas and fishing access.
Smith said approval is almost certain for the land. The application meets all the standards, and the city has been serving as caretaker for four years. But, Smith said, receiving approval takes a lot of time.
An additional 164 acres along Warm Springs Creek west of town is also included in the application. But, Smith said, this land would see few changes in use from what's already going on now: hiking, dog walking and fishing.
The fact that the application would be approved in the winter of 2011 instead of fall mostly stalls the whitewater park. Smith said the BLM has recommended not starting any planning until the application is approved. At this point, neither the whitewater park's design nor location has been looked into. If approval comes in the winter, location and design would have to wait for the following spring after the snow melts, instead of being started in the fall.
"This is kind of a bummer," Smith said. "But we're going to do what we can."
Smith said that once the permit is approved, the city needs to find funds to build the park. Local kayakers have formed the Wood River Whitewater Park Committee to aid the city in its planning and execution, but neither has looked into funding options yet.
But the park can't be immediately built once the permit is received and design decided. Committee member Peter Pressley said the design needs several government approvals, including that of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Regardless of when it happens, Smith said, the whitewater park and surrounding land would quintuple the city's park space. Currently, the city has about 50 acres of parks.
The country's first whitewater park was constructed in Durango, Colo., in the late 1980s. Cathy Metz, Durango's director of parks and recreation, said the park is cheap to maintain, costing about $2,000 every two years to move boulders that have been dislodged.
"That was great to find out," Smith said, "because I was concerned we were biting off more than we could chew."
Trevon Milliard: email@example.com
What is a whitewater park?
A whitewater park is in no way like a water park, even though the names sound similar. While a water park is constructed from scratch—plastic slides, cement wave pools and chlorinated water—whitewater parks are a manipulation of a river section.
Boulders are placed in a way to create a standing wave that kayakers, boogie boarders and even surfers can ride. It can, and often does, look completely natural. A river's standing wave creates the same forces that enable a surfer to ride an ocean wave, but with a difference. When a surfer is riding a wave on the ocean, he and the wave are travelling across the water. In a river, the wave and surfer are standing still relative to the banks while the water moves under them.