MONTROSE – Scott Shipley, a three-time world champion kayaker and designer of whitewater parks around the world, spoke last week to a gathering of about 50 citizens about the City of Montrose Uncompahgre River Corridor Master Plan.
Now retired from competition and fresh from the opening of the 2012 Olympic kayaking venue in London, which was built by his firm, S2O Design of Boulder, Shipley made a pitch for a family-oriented whitewater park on the Uncompahgre River at Upper Cerise (Riverbottom) Park.
City Park Planner Dennis Erickson hosted the event at the Pavilion, which also included a presentation by lead planner Ann Christensen of DHM Design in Durango, who introduced the draft plan. Also on hand was Gabe Preston of CPI Consulting, who led the group in a keypad polling exercise on priorities within the draft plan.
Participants indicated their preferences – high priority, medium or low – for a number of goals being considered in the plan, including: developing new city-owned parks on the northern third of the 10-mile-long river corridor, building more pedestrian bridges across the river, connecting downtown Main Street more directly to the river, building tails to link existing and future parks, acquiring private property for river improvements, and preservation/enhancement of the river ecosystem.
A whitewater park scored high on the list. But the highest priority for the public on this night was clearly trails, bicycle/pedestrian trails, to connect parks and link existing segments of river trail, thereby providing alternate-transportation routes, not just for recreation, but for commuting and shopping as well.
Shipley’s portfolio included river projects in Pueblo, Durango, Breckenridge, Vail, Steamboat, Reno, Nev., and the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., where the U.S. team practices.
“The center in North Carolina is not just about competition,” Shipley said. “It’s also about teaching, tubing and playing in the water. A million people a year come to the center. It’s a terrific economic boon to the area.”
The national center, and the London facility, are artificial, self-contained rivers, with pumps to re-circulate a fixed volume of water. What Shipley envisions on the natural flow of the Uncompahgre is far more modest, involving the creation of a few play waves, pools, eddies, beaches and other access points to the water. It could, he said, result in a real community benefit, increasing tourism as well as providing local recreation. Modest in-stream improvements in Steamboat have resulted in “30,000 to 40,000 tubers per year floating through town. Those folks are shopping there, staying in motels, eating in local restaurants.”
Building whitewater parks is “a new field,” he said, “a new phenomenon. We bring the whitewater to you, where you are, so you don’t have to get in your car and drive to the whitewater.
“Riverbottom Park,” Shipley said, “is for sure No. 1 for potential of the spots I’ve looked at. The slope is very nice. I’d recommend a length of 1,000 to 1,500 linear feet; that’s the amount of space that typically gets used. People like to float a section then get out and walk back to the beginning, do it again and again.”
An audience member asked about liability to the city. “The liability laws are very well framed in this state,” Shipley replied. The city would assume little risk.
How would a park be funded?, came another audience question. To which parks planner Erickson replied, “Lottery funding. GOCO, Great Outdoors Colorado, which funds parks and trails. And some funds from the city. It’s something we could do, with grant funding. Obviously, right now funding is very tight. But there is some money in the budget for river improvements.” And then referring to the overall river master plan: “This is a long-term plan.”
Ann Christensen added that GOCO is also the primary funding source for the river corridor plan. The three firms working on the plan, including DHM, are being paid $113,000, $75,000 of which is lottery money. “There are some funds,” she said, “from the [citizens group] Friends of the River Uncompahgre. And some from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.”
Following the meeting, Dr. John Unger, a Montrose chiropractor and longtime river enthusiast, commented that it was good to see the river getting so much attention. “It’s something to be hopeful about,” he said.
When it came to prioritizing goals, Unger said, “I voted High Priority for all the trail linkages. I’ve had patients hit by cars on their bikes. People need to be able to get around town safely on their bikes.”
Anyone can comment on the river master plan at www.cityofmontrose.org/river.