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Basalt whitewater park modifications are focus of Oct. 16 public meeting
The wave
Two man-made waves – located within about 25 yards of each other on the Roaring Fork River and part of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Whitewater Park – may be tweaked this winter at the behest of users who have found them unmanageable during high water. A public meeting for all stakeholders is Wednesday in Basalt Town Hall. - photo by Madeleine Osberger

It was a summer to remember for river enthusiasts, and for some who paddled into the huge surf created by man-made “play waves” on the Roaring Fork during June’s peak runoff, there are stories that, good or bad, won’t soon be forgotten.

The first of two waves in the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Whitewater Park, which was characterized as a “death hole” by Basalt Town Councilman Auden Schendler last month during a work session with the Pitkin County commissioners, proved vexing for even the most experienced of paddlers when the water rose to an enormous 2,500 cubic feet per second (cfs). Roaring Fork Fire Rescue was contacted on a single day in late June to assist with several swift water rescues, though none produced serious injuries.

“You need to fix that thing,” Schendler said about the first wave during the September joint meeting with the BOCC, and his statement was met with nodding heads throughout the council chambers. Those in attendance included park planners who were already aware that some significant tweaks were needed for the features installed downstream from Fisherman’s Park in 2017 and across from the entrance to Elk Run. Back-to-back years of normal or below-normal flows meant the waves didn’t receive their true test until the summer of 2019.

Map courtesy Bluegreen

A public meeting to address potential modifications to the Healthy Rivers Whitewater Park is Wednesday, Oct. 16, at 6 p.m. in Basalt Town Hall. According to a release about the meeting, “Engineers have revised the features once since the park was constructed in 2017. If necessary, additional modifications will be made this winter when the water is low enough for construction to occur.”

RICD behind the amenities

Andre Wille is chairman of the Healthy Rivers board. - photo by Madeleine Osberger
While the whitewater amenities and improvements are anticipated to be a huge place for myriad river users, the main priority behind the park’s creation was to lock down recreational in-channel diversion rights (RICD), emphasized Andre Wille, chairman of the Healthy Rivers Board, during a site visit this week.

The RICD is the water right that allows Pitkin County to “call” water down the Roaring Fork River to the project site. The water decree attached to this issue was first issued from the state in June 2014, according to Lisa MacDonald of Healthy Rivers.

Sheri Sanzone of Bluegreen, the Aspen landscape architecture and planning studio that is responsible for “everything above the water” in this project, reiterated its main reason for being.

Wave riding
The upper wave in the Basalt whitewater park is “great fun” in a kayak at around 500 cfs, according to Andre Wille. At 2,500 cfs, its personality radically changes.
“The law allowing recreation uses to help keep water in the river is really important,” Sanzone said. “The ultimate goal is maintaining the really great habitat for the fish and other wildlife in the area.” She added that there were “tons of purposes beyond something fun for kayakers.”

Great Outdoors Colorado provided a $350,000 grant toward the park and its amenities. Both the town of Basalt and Pitkin County are the landowners of this parcel and are partnering on the stream side improvements. Slope stabilization contiguous to the waves is also part of this first phase.

Healthy Rivers’ MacDonald told the BOCC and town council that other avenues would be explored for future phase funding. According to Sanzone, a pedestrian bridge could be part of the next or subsequent phase.

The Oct. 16 public meeting in Basalt Town Hall is intended to generate “constructive criticism from people who run the river and play and fish at the park so that we can make the waves the best they can be for everyone,” Wille said in a prepared statement. 

Wille, a kayaking enthusiast, added this week that, “You can’t model a river on paper as well as engineers would like you too. What works at low flow can be a challenge at high flow.”

River Restoration, the Carbondale-based river engineering and watershed science firm, has a five-year contract to install and improve the wave park features. Sanzone said once the flow levels are low enough this winter, any modifications to the river features can be made. A representative of River Restoration could not be reached before presstime.