Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Whitewater park plans inch forward

City awaits final decision from BLM

Express Staff Writer

    The city of Ketchum is continuing to take steps towards constructing a $2.3 million whitewater park on the Big Wood River north of Hailey.
    Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Smith presented the plans to the City Council Monday night. Smith said the Parks and Recreation Department is working closely with a number of state, federal and local agencies, and will ultimately need final approval from the Bureau of Land Management.
    The park is planned for the Sun Peak area near Hulen Meadows. After the meeting, Smith told the Mountain Express that it is imperative that the final design of the river and park project be accurate.
    “If we don’t do what we say we’re going to do, BLM can take the land back. Also, if we do more or something different, BLM can take the land back,” Smith said.
    Partnering with the nonprofit Wood River Land Trust, the city of Ketchum is seeking a patent land grant, which would make the land a deed of the government under the Recreation and Public Purposes Act of 1928. In addition to the grant application, there is also an environmental assessment of the land under way, which Smith expects to be completed this week.
    During her presentation to the City Council, Smith said private donors have contributed about $125,000 thus far towards the project. She added that the city of Ketchum has donated close to the same amount. Despite the early initial success in building interest in the park, Smith said it is not yet appropriate to begin an official fundraising campaign.
    “We haven’t started a fundraising effort yet. We think it’s disingenuous to start a big fundraising campaign if we don’t have conveyance of the land,” Smith said. “This is a federal land disposal action, and until we get word that the land has been conveyed to the city of Ketchum, then we’ll go ahead and start a concerted fundraising effort.”
    Smith said she has seen substantial interest in providing financial help “from people waiting in the wings.” She expects a final design to be released in October or November. Construction is expected to begin in 2014, and the city hopes for it to be completed in 2015.
    A major turning point in development of the project took place on Sept. 17, 2012, when the City Council approved the design and master plan for the proposed River Park at Sun Peak. Colorado-based S2o Design and Engineering—a firm that specializes in creating river parks—created the plan.
    Smith explained the difference between the master plan and the final design plan.
    “The master plan is the what, and the final design is the how,” she said. “So, the final design plan delves into the details of things such as moving entrances to the parking lot or the exact location of the bridge.”
    In a news release, Smith claimed there are positive environmental benefits that would result from the proposed River Park at Sun Peak. She wrote that the project “would restore wildlife habitat, reduce flooding risk to downstream properties.”
    She also said, “Creation of the park also would allow the city to take over maintenance of Hulen Meadows Pond, which is filling up with silt.”
    Ketchum’s opportunity to take over the 316 acres of deed-restricted land showed major signs of promise in May, when the Parks and Recreation Department reported the BLM’s eagerness to cede control of the land. This was a result of the federal “sequester” budget cuts that inhibited the BLM’s ability to manage the land.
    With the fate of the land ultimately up to the BLM, Smith told the City Council that the Parks and Recreation Department is collaborating closely with the federal agency.
    “The interest now is to keep the BLM moving,” Smith said. “We’re not pushing the project along; we’re not pushing the process along. We just want them to keep working until a decision has been made.”

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