Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Whitewater park gains support

Officials express confidence in project; cost uncertain

Express Staff Writer

Plenty of vehicles with kayaks and rafts perched on top are visible in Ketchum. The problem, say some whitewater enthusiasts, is that they drive right through town on their way to somewhere else.

Local kayakers want Ketchum to be a destination for their sport. A group of advocates appeared before the Ketchum City Council on Monday to urge the city to move forward with a new whitewater park—a manipulation of a river section to accommodate kayaking—tentatively planned for the Big Wood River where it runs through publicly owned land near the Hulen Meadows Pond north of Ketchum.

The City Council is behind the project and gave approval to the city's Parks & Recreation Department to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Wood River Land Trust. The agreement delineates roles and responsibilities as parterning entities forge ahead with development and river restoration plans.

"We're all very excited about this," said Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall. "We've been working on it for years."

The council also told the Parks & Recreation Department to proceed with a request-for-qualifications process through which the city will seek qualified firms for master planning the site, including design and engineering.

Plans for the park have been in the works since early 2008, when the city applied for a federal Recreation and Public Purposes patent, which would transfer management of about 217 acres of federal land from the BLM to Ketchum.

Local resident Jeff Smull told the council a whitewater park is "right on target" for what the community needs. He noted that even though Ketchum is seen as a town of whitewater recreationists, there is no place in town or nearby where they can play.

Boise and Cascade have built or are building whitewater parks. Gerry Moffatt said the parks bring vibrancy to the area and would add a shoulder-season activity.

"This facility will ... radically change everything in terms of what we can accomplish," he said. "We have an opportunity to do something really special for our community."

As a partner in the application, the Wood River Land Trust is working on riparian issues and habitat restoration. The Parks & Recreation Department will be charged with oversight of recreation resources and management, Jennifer Smith, director of the Ketchum Parks and Recreation Department, said in an interview. She said the department will solicit requests for qualifications in the next month.

"We want to make sure we get the right firm who has the right qualifications," she said. "We're not going to settle for throwing a few rocks in the river. We're going to get it right."

In the meantime, the city's application to the BLM for a Recreation and Public Purposes patent is proceeding. The patent would give the city deed-restricted ownership, akin to a long-term lease, over the site.

The city's action Monday was a show of support for the project, an important part of the application.

"It helps the BLM to understand that the city is behind the plan 100 percent," Smith said.

If there are no challenges to the application through the public outreach process, the BLM could approve the patent by fall 2012.

"At some point we're going to have to start talking about money and start planning for that," Hall said.

Councilman Baird Gourlay expressed confidence in the community's ability to raise funds for its development.

There is no current estimate on the project's cost.

Rebecca Meany:

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