Friday, June 8, 2012

Whitewater park has friends, foes

At hearing, passions flare on both sides of issue

Express Staff Writer

The notion of a healthy Hulen Pond, increased river access for the public and restored wildlife habitat north of Ketchum has some residents enthusiastic. The same plan has others concerned that increased activity near Hulen Meadows could forever change the rural landscape they love and invested in.

More than 100 people jammed a meeting room at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum Tuesday to view recreational-aspect designs and restoration and preservation plans for a parcel of land a few miles north of Ketchum along the Big Wood River.

Colorado-based S2O Design and Engineering is under contract with the city of Ketchum for recreational components of the master plan, including a whitewater park.

Scott Shipley, S2O president, said whitewater parks—wherein a section of river is manipulated to accommodate kayaking and other water sports—can be urban or natural in feel, or anything in between.

The idea for this park would be in keeping with the natural surroundings, he said.

Plans also call for management of Hulen Pond, enhancements to wildlife viewing trails, a picnic area, fishing pier, dog agility course, improvements for disabled access, and restoration of riverbank vegetation, among other components.

"The pond seems to be the thing people value the most," Shipley said.

In 2008, Ketchum, in partnership with the nonprofit Wood River Land Trust, applied for a Recreation and Public Purposes patent. The agreement would give the city deed-restricted ownership of land north of town—210 acres from Sun Peak Day Use Area to the Lake Creek trailhead—and another 105-acre parcel at the confluence of the Big Wood River and Warm Springs Creek.

More than a half dozen other interest groups, including Trout Unlimited, Sun Valley Adaptive Sports, Sustain Blaine, the Confluence Fund, and the Blaine County Recreation District, have signed on to the idea.

Also part of the discussion are jurisdictional agencies that are required to be involved. Those include the Blaine County Flood Control District and its Land Use Planning Department, Idaho Department of Water Resources, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and others.

"We have to apply for permits at some time for instream and riparian setback work, depending on what the plan of development turns out to be," Jen Smith, Ketchum Parks & Recreation director, said in an interview. "And the design will dictate that."

Shipley, Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall and Wood River Land Trust Executive Director Scott Boettger fielded questions about impacts to property values, noise, picnic-area cleanup, and annexation of Hulen Meadows into Ketchum.

Some Hulen Meadows homeowners expressed reservations about the project, with one person decrying what he saw as a "circus" being planned at the entrance to the subdivision.

Hall tried to assure attendees that the city would not enter into any maintenance agreement that it could not keep up with and that Ketchum is not interested in annexation of Hulen Meadows, saying the cost for providing city services would outweigh property taxes the city could collect.

"The reason I'm so excited about this project is because it's consistent with our community values," he said. "This community demands the best."

Shipley said some whitewater parks increase values of surrounding homes, but not always.

In Reno, Nev., for example, there was a "significant" increase, he said, while in Vail, Colo., a whitewater park brought no increase.

"It was already expensive and it's still expensive," he said.

S2O will consider all input and make a recommendation to the mayor-appointed R&PP task force, which will make a design recommendation to the City Council later this summer.

The City Council has the authority to adopt the master plan design. The BLM would be asked to approve a plan of development and the overall management plan.

Rebecca Meany:

Missed something?

To learn about the Recreation and Public Purposes patent application being considered by the Bureau of Land Management, components of which include the river park, visit and type "Refuge, recreation or both?" in the search field.

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