White Water in Kent !!
In my quest to find ways to take advantage of the great river that we have right in the heart of downtown Kent I’ve been really impressed with the way other cities have created their own white water courses where mother nature had not seen fit to do so on her own. These home-made courses let kayakers and rafters get in the river and do their thing. And when they’re doing their thing, other people like to come watch and catch the action and plug-in to the whole eco-vibe.
Before you know it you’ve got a whole new “outdoors” subculture going on that celebrates a little piece of the great outdoors in the middle of a city. And guess what, those outdoorsy types have money in their pockets (think LL Bean) and they need to eat like everybody else so next come the healthy eateries, outdoor retail stores and other eco-outlets. This can bring a whole new level of interest, energy and people into a downtown who like to experience a taste of the “granola” lifestyle. That’s how you become a destination.
You’d be surprised by how popular these courses are, not just for the athletes, but for people that like to watch or just like to feel that they’re part of the action. But don’t take my word for it, according to the Outdoor Industry Association kayaking is one of the fastest growing outdoor sports. Here’s what the statistics say:
Change in Participation from 1998 to 2004
Single Track Mountain Biking – Up 183%
Cross Country Skiing – Up 166%
Kayaking – Up 130%
Snowshoe – Up 50%
Trail Running – Up 20%
The Association reports that there are 141 million (that’s MILLION) people in the US consider themselves outdoor enthusiasts so we’re not talking some small market niche here. That works out to 2 out of 3 people over the age of 16 that like to play in Mother’s Nature playground. Sports related travel is also up 14% over the last 3 years.
The statistics continue to say that 56% of the outdoor sports participants are male, all ages participate but 16-24 year olds make up 26% of the total, 52% are married, 50% have kids of their own, and they have an average income of nearly $60,000 — so we’re talking about an attractive market here that has both the willingness and ability to spend money.
In the articles that I’ve excerpted below you’ll see how other cities, like South Bend Indiana or Charlotte North Carolina, have taken a river and turned it into an economic engine using a white water theme. When I look at the section of the Cuyahoga that runs thru Kent and around our new Dam I can’t help but think of the potential we have to do the same thing here. We’ve actually got a much more attractive shoreline than South Bend and we have some rapids already in place (especially during high water).
I’m no Kayak expert but I recognize a good idea when I see it. In pitching this idea around a little bit I was told that there’s already a kayaking group in Kent that actually pays money to get a chance to practice in the Roosevelt High School pool. I say let’s get them out of the pool and into the river.
South Bend Indiana
The East Race Waterway the first artificial whitewater course in North America and one of only six in the world. The Waterway opened in 1984 and routinely hosts national and word-class whitewater slalom races. The waterway brings Olympic winners and national champions to South Bend each season. The waterway and surrounding area are ideal settings for a variety of fun family activities. A seasoned, well-trained rescue team is on duty along the course during public operation hours.
- A whitewater course for beginners & the advanced
- Easy viewing of all waterway activities and competitions
- A fish ladder with seasonal viewing of Chinook salmon and steelhead trout
- Nearby fishing for Chinook salmon, steelhead trout and small-mouth bass.
- Part of a multiple park system that includes playgrounds, picnic facilities, and much more.
- More than 5 miles of paved & lighted walking/running paths along the St. Joseph River
Golden Colorado – Clear Creek White Water Park
One of Golden’s most unique recreational attractions is the Clear Creek Whitewater Park, built for recreational canoeing and kayaking. The course is located at the west end of Tenth Street, adjacent to Lions Park.
This innovative recreational experience is divided into sections. The course is 800 feet in length, built with natural boulders and divided into sections. The top is a series of drops and pools of different experience levels and has some fast eddies. The middle portion consists of flat, broad, shallow surf waves with huge random boulders–a prime workplace forgates. The bottom section entertains paddlers with more extreme surf and wave drops.
The class of this course will require paddlers proficient on fast moving, cold water, particularly during high flow season. There are no fees for usage and the course is unsupervised. Parking is located at Lions Park, the ballfields and adjacent areas. Vanover Park is also available for parking and provides a take-out site for those continuing downstream after maneuvering the course.
The Golden Parks and Recreation Department also offers lessons at the indoor pool for those that would like to safely learn this unique water sport
In 2002 six additional drop structures were constructed. These new structures provide a great recreational opportunity for white water access. They are located downstream from the competitive course behind City Hall and on either side of the Washington Street Bridge. With this expansion, Golden now provides 7 city blocks of White water activity on Clear Creek.
Charolotte North Carolina — Braving the Narrows
Wise is a seasoned paddler – and it’s a darned good thing. The former lawyer abandoned his career several years ago to follow his passion, which just happens to be chopping through any swath of whitewater he can find. What makes his story unique is that he didn’t wave goodbye to the wife and kids with his kayak slung over his shoulder.
Instead, he helped master the plan to build a man-made river powerful enough to propel rafters and paddlers through its muscular channels. Dubbed the U.S. National Whitewater Center, Wise’s river has been rising for the past couple of years, and the park’s opening date is clearly in sight.
The concept is revolutionary, and the amount of resources needed to fuel the endeavor is impressive, but what is perhaps most interesting is how much the process of building the U.S. National Whitewater Park resembled navigating the narrows of a particularly nasty rapid.
Classing the Rapids
Since the project began, ideological hurdles, funding challenges, design changes, logistical battles and copious day-to-day development issues helped shape the course of the park. Speaking to Jeff Wise, you’d think that was just part of the fun.
“If you can’t get the horse to water, bring the water to the horse,” he says with a grin.
After all is said and done, the original $25 million back-of-napkin price tag for the non-profit endeavor will have evolved into a $35 million playground, Wise says. The goals: to introduce paddling to the region in a big way and provide a local venue to encourage an active lifestyle for any demographic.
The facility is located on 300 acres of woodlands adjacent to five miles of the Catawba riverfront, which it has adopted as an amenity for its paddlers by adding a boathouse to accommodate boating, skulling and fishing. The park boasts 11 miles of biking, hiking and running trails, a high ropes course, the largest climbing wall in the country and a 20,000-square-foot lodge. The lodge includes a conference center, changing stations, equipment rental and check-in facilities, a grab-and-go lunch cafe, a full-service grill, retail and an observation deck overlooking the rapids. A 37-acre island offering primitive camping sites sits within the park’s 300 acres.
Of course, the big buzz centers around the mammoth man-made river powered by seven 750-horsepower pumps that whip 12 million gallons of water daily into Class III, IV and IV+ rapids. Up to 50 full-size rafts have clearance to ride the course at a time, and a one and a half hour trip can serve up eight to 10 unique rapid experiences by virtue of a 25-foot conveyor belt repeatedly feeding rafters and kayakers back into the churn.
The project came into being after Bank of America’s Vic Howie, who oversaw the bank’s sponsorship of the 2000 U.S. Olympic whitewater team, and attorney Chet Rabon visited the team’s training camp in Australia and the 2004 site in Athens, Greece. In a move that Wise characterizes as “classic Charlotte boosterism,” the two started talking with Bank of America and governmental leaders to plan a whitewater training facility in Charlotte.
The project was bound by fits and starts, including discussions of 470 different locations for the site. Initially drawn as an uptown attraction with Charlotte’s many banking high-rises in the background, it was Wise’s outdoor acumen that determined the park’s final location just north of I-485’s southern-most exit.
“One day,” explains Wise, “I was mountain biking out here and it became very clear to me that this was THE place.”
Although many players had an interest in keeping the center downtown for revenue and visibility issues, Wise and his team were seeking to create a lifestyle option, not a short-lived attraction. Many banks they approached were concerned that the whitewater center model would parallel an aquarium, that it would be hot for a while and then fizzle out.
“What we are impressing upon people is that it is a recreation center, an active, healthy atmosphere that brings the great outdoors just a few miles away from the metropolis,” Wise says. “The model is actually a lot more like a ski slope. Skiers have a passion for their sport and will go to any lengths to get as much of it as possible. Plus, like a ski resort, conditions at the whitewater center will be in a constant state of flux. It is an activity, not passive entertainment.”
Building a major venue for outdoor activity is very attractive to those who believe they have to abandon activity and the outdoors for a stable income and cost of living issues. With this new, huge resource, they won’t have to choose.
Charting the Line
Getting the project from the planning stage to pouring tons of cement was an arduous process, and Wise and his wife often found themselves stuck between making ends meet and pursuing what seemed like fantastical plans to put a roaring river where nature didn’t plan for it to be.
After Wise realized that someone had to make the center his full-time job, he volunteered for the task for three months. Two years later, he had burned through their savings, mortgaged their home, and was literally wondering where money for their next grocery trip was coming from.
“My wife is an amazing, strong woman,” Wise says, “But she was saying to me, ‘I can’t do this. This race is running too long.’”
A board member overheard the problems the couple was experiencing and assembled all nine of the center’s board members, convincing each of them to personally guarantee a loan for $25,000. The money helped the Wises and paid the designers and planners, who had seen nothing for their services thus far.
“For me, it was one of those defining moments,” Wise recalls. “One of those times when you just know everything is going to turn out okay, when something big happens to confirm your faith.”
Surprisingly, many people shared faith in what appeared to be a radical and outlandish project. Approximately five months into the project, the U.S. Kayak Team voted to relocate here. Then, the U.S. Olympic Committee designated it as its official training site. The project’s tide of credibility rose organically thereafter.
An essential part of the formula was to designate the U.S. National Whitewater Center as a non-profit entity.
“In a traditional for-profit structure, investors are motivated by the risk-reward equation, and we weren’t interested in throwing out the integrity of the project to line anybody’s pockets,” Wise explains. “Once we introduced our true mission – providing value to the community – the fish started biting.”
Building man-made rapids on the edge of a city is revolutionary, and finding funding for the project took similar ingenuity. The project is run on two separate $10 million loans, which have been jointly guaranteed by the governments of Mecklenburg and Gaston counties and the City of Charlotte. Official annual projections target $11 million in revenue and $4 million in operating revenue based on 300,000 visitors. If the center meets its projections, the entities will share in the profits. If it fails by the end of the seven to 10-year loan year period however, $13 million becomes due and payable.
Fundraisers for the group are still scouting private investments, including $5 million in naming rights to various sections of the facility.
Perfecting the Eskimo Roll
Eventually, a director of operations will manage the center. But for now, Wise has the weighty responsibility of developing the park in keeping with its singular premise: providing a healthy, fun, varied and accessible outdoor recreation venue that will excite avid paddlers; be trusted and valued by families; and provide the competitive edge in training facilities for pros and Olympic hopefuls. There is no room in this formula for making a quick buck or compromise, Wise stresses. Remaining loyal to the regionalist approach of governmental entities with high stakes in the project must be balanced against the center’s determination to be a world class, national facility – made clear by its name.
“We chose ‘U.S. National Whitewater Center’ to bring value to Charlotte,” Wise explains.
“There were very strong voices that pushed for having ‘Charlotte’ in the name, but we just couldn’t do that. That would be a slap in the face to other contributors and ignores the fact that having a nationally recognized facility contiguous to Charlotte will bring more value to the city, not less.”
When a major fast food chain expressed interest in naming rights and on-site operations in the park, another challenge arose.
“At first glance, we rejected the proposal because it didn’t reflect the healthy lifestyle we are trying to encourage,” Wise says. “Our second thought was a doozy, because there was considerable money involved and I guess for a moment we lost our soul. Fortunately, we shook ourselves out of it. We decided on food service for the park that endorses healthy choices and provides easy staples for families.”
Wise is also responsible for maintaining what he calls a “healthy creative tension” between the architects, builders, CFO, operation leadership and owners, to assure all voices get their fair day in court.
At one point, it appeared that that is exactly where the U.S. National Whitewater Center would land. The proposed main entrance off Belmeade Drive was stalled a year ago, when partner and property developer Crosland became entangled in a city-county zoning debate over the entrance’s location. An alternate plan was to make a temporary entrance at a planned egress road to the south of the park, off Charlie Hipp Road. A handful of residents fought the move, hoping to delay this addition by two more years.
The debate became heated in June, when residents won a temporary roadblock of a third construction road, delaying the project by at least a couple of weeks. They removed the roadblock within 48 hours, but some contractors left for other projects when the duration of the standoff appeared unclear.
The egress road off Charlie Hipp Road is required and approved in the initial zoning for the site, according to Wise, and it is a public road.
“What is in limbo is permission to connect two neighboring county properties that promises a $35 million dollar asset right next door,” Wise says. “Plus, the infrastructure that the whitewater center is providing will eventually benefit current residents and people relocating to the area.”
A prime example is a 2,300-unit residential development Crosland is planning.
“Change is coming,” Wise says. “I just want our neighbors to consider that having an eco-friendly outdoor center footing the bill for all the lines we are putting in here, and the streets we are building could be a good thing. We are dedicated to low-impact construction and doing things right, and if they try and postpone the inevitable, they might end up with someone a whole lot less interested in these things.”
At the time of this writing, a secondary plan for the main entrance off Belmeade Drive is in planning stages, and appears to be appeasing everyone involved.
The U.S. National Whitewater Park is set to open this month, and the climate in the community is truly one of anticipation. After the region dips its toe in the water, Jeff Wise and his cadre of consultants will take the intellectual property rights and lessons learned from tragedies narrowly averted and set off in search of the next big wave.
White-water rafting — in the city this summer the first man-made rafting park in the U.S. opens outside Charlotte, N.C. Are more urban parks on the way? Andrew Park, FSB contributor April 21, 2006: 11:19 AM EDT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FORTUNE Small Business) – Coming soon to a metropolis near you: Class IV rapids. Jeff Wise, a former software entrepreneur, is helping develop the first white-water park in the U.S., on a 307-acre plot outside Charlotte. The nonprofit park opens in June and will host world-class competitions, though Wise wants weekend warriors to show up too.
“We’re not selling kayaking,” says Wise, 42. “We’re selling a lifestyle.” To that end, he plans to offer such amenities at the park as hiking trails and a cafe – along with treacherous eddies, seven-foot plunges, and 10,000-pound boulders the size of Humvees.
Wise is not alone. Entrepreneurs in cities around the world are pouring cascades of cash into man-made white-water parks in a bid to spur economic growth. The model for these rock-strewn, recirculating rivers is the Penrith Whitewater Stadium, a $6 million facility erected outside Sydney for the 2000 Summer Olympics. More than five years after the closing ceremonies, Penrith is churning out profits and has a three-month wait. Similar parks are already in place in Athens, Paris, and Nanjing, China.
“You can put them pretty much anywhere,” says Bob Campbell, 51, a former coach of the USA Canoe/Kayak team who now advises cities looking to open white-water parks. Since 2000, Campbell’s seven-person firm, Whitewater Parks International, in Glenwood Springs, Colo., has fielded more than 200 inquiries. Wise, who founded Consentsys, a health-care software business he sold in 2001, has already seen signals that the Charlotte park will spawn other business opportunities for the area. Across the road from its entrance, developers are advertising unbuilt residential neighborhoods with names such as Whitewater Glen.
To design the course, Wise brought in Scott Shipley, a fluid engineer with Recreation Engineering & Planning in Boulder. Before becoming an engineer, Shipley spent 13 years kayaking for the U.S. team, competing in the Summer Olympics three times. He included the waves, chutes, and obstacles of a natural river, along with seven enormous pumps to recycle water through the course, drawing the equivalent of an Olympic-sized pool every eight seconds.
The project cost about $35 million, but Wise predicts that the nonprofit center will break even in its first year. While customers won’t pay to bike, climb, or hike on the property, rafting groups will pay $15 to $25 a person for a 90-minute session on the course, which Wise says equates to a 5 ½-mile ride down a natural river.
Overlooking the water will be restaurants, a coffee bar, and retail stores as well as an airy conference center available for corporate retreats. Says Wise, an avid kayaker and mountain biker who runs 3:15 marathons: “Our goal is to keep you out long enough to eat, drink, and spend a little money.” Official projections are for $11 million in annual revenue and $4 million in operating income, but that’s based on about 300,000 visitors. Wise optimistically expects 500,000.
In time, white-water parks could expose millions of city slickers to kayaking and canoeing. The sport’s organizing body, the International Canoe Federation, has decreed that future World Cup events must be held on man-made rivers to take advantage of their access to spectators and made-for-TV layouts. Charlotte’s park will be a U.S. Olympic training site and begins hosting competitions in 2007.
“We’ve got a chance to really change the way people perceive these sports,” says local banker Vic Howie, who has worked on the project from the start. It just takes tinkering with Mother Nature a bit.
Additional reporting by Chuck Marvin
The world’s first self-contained artificial river became operational last month in Charlotte. To create the $32 million U.S. National Whitewater Center, two Charlotte firms, Liquid Design and RodgersDooley, utilized technology from around the globe, as well as their own innovative thinking.
It’s surprising, even for longtime residents, to realize that just 10 minutes from downtown Charlotte’s office buildings, condo towers and hustling crowds, the Catawba River flows through a forested landscape with only a few scattered homes.
But now something has been created in this rural pocket that has attracted the attention of people from around the globe: the world’s first multiple-channel artificial river using a closed-loop system, which went operational in July.
Visitors to the $32 million U.S. National Whitewater Center – from Olympic-caliber kayakers to folks just wanting a casual fun rafting experience – will be able to ride the rapids on a curving up-and-down course starting at an upper pool and rafting down a channel that drops 21 ft. to a lower finishing pool.
With the water flowing at 800-900 cu. ft. per second, and boulders carefully placed to recreate the rapids of a natural rocky stream, the rafters should get their share of thrills during the typical 1.5-hour experience.
When they’re done, they can jump onto a conveyor belt system to return to the top of the course and repeat the experience. The 4,000-lin.-ft.-long artificial river, which is on 50 acres, is also being used as a training facility for competitive kayakers and as a site for competitive events.
There are other, similar manmade facilities – the most notable one is in Sydney, Australia, which was used for the 2000 Olympics. But in those, the water is supplied by an adjacent river. Even though the Charlotte facility is also located on a river, it doesn’t draw water from it, making the system self-contained.
“We had to deal with several jurisdictions, and the red tape was so hard to overcome, it could have taken us years to get all the authorizations (to draw from the river),” said Michael Williams, president of Liquid Design, the Charlotte architectural/ construction management company that designed and managed the project. “It made more sense to create our own pond, and it was more cost-effective to keep using the same water.”
The 12 million -14 million gallons of water needed to fill the artificial river comes from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities Department, which had an existing pumping station near the new facility. To ensure efficiency, the center built another station, as well as a 2,000-ft.-long line, so it is directly connected to the CMUD system.
The actual sitework began in March 2005, but the design work began about two years earlier. The general contractor, Charlotte-based RodgersDooley, was involved from the start, as was consultant Scott Shipley, an Olympic kayaker who also is a mechanical engineer.
“He dealt with the water and made sure it does what it’s supposed to do,” said Williams, who was the project’s lead designer. RodgersDooley is an alliance between Rodgers Builders and RT Dooley, both of Charlotte. Liquid Design and RodgersDooley are also creating the conference center/restaurant and the climbing center, which are being completed this summer.
The nonprofit facility also includes indoor and outdoor climbing areas, a ropes course, 11 mi. of trails and a 20,000-sq.-ft. conference center/ restaurant. The center is located on Mecklenburg County’s 300-acre Historic Tuckaseegee Ford District Park near the intersection of interstates 85 and 485. The trails – for walking, hiking, jogging and mountain biking – were in place before the center was established.
Monies have been raised from the private sector and will also come from the proceeds of operating the center. There has been no direct government funding, but Mecklenburg County and several neighboring towns have guaranteed the loans.
“It (the artificial river) was unusual, and no one knew how to build one, and no one knew what it would cost,” said Scott Carr, Rodgers’ senior project manager. “There were so many unknowns, and we had to convince the building inspectors it was safe.”
That was especially true when all they had was a concept. “We all did lots of research, and evaluating systems became an art,” Carr added. “We went through tons of schematics. It became all about working together as a close-knit team. This has been awesome and a lot of fun, one of the best projects I’ve worked on. I’d love to start another one tomorrow.”
Jeff Wise, the center’s executive director, said it was important to the team to build a facility that was known for aesthetics, durability and functionality, as well as something that was user-friendly for both novices and world-class athletes. “That was a tall order,” he added. “But the design and construction team has given us everything we asked for.”
Going into the unknown offered a variety of challenges. Pumping and filtering the water was a major concern. The pump system is made up of seven submergible pumps made by ITT Flygt of Sweden.
The system, which Williams said is the largest ever assembled for a whitewater park, cost $1.2 million and is capable of pumping 536,000 gallons per minute. That’s fast enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in nine seconds.
A filtration system supplied by PEP Filters of Israel will purify the water through ultraviolet treatment instead of traditional chlorine. The price tag was another $1 million.
Because of the fast-track construction schedule, a plan was devised to prevent possible rain delays. As soon as portions of the channel were dug and a liner installed, the concrete was poured to a 6- to 8-in. thickness.
“They chased each other around the course,” Carr said. Concrete pouring began last August and was completed in June.
Instead of shotcrete, traditional cast-in-place concrete was used. To improve the water’s flow, the concrete needed to be as smooth as possible. To finish the concrete, Rodgers staffer Mark Cassel designed a jig that was attached to the fork lift that smoothed the concrete out after it was poured. It was dubbed ‘The Castle’ in his honor.
Altogether, RodgersDooley laid about 15,000 yds. of concrete. The center was spared the recent dramatic increase in the cost of concrete because the company locked in the price about two years ago.
To minimize the potential for damage to the welded liner under the concrete and decrease the amount of concrete cracking, RodgersDooley used a fiber additive instead of wire mesh in the concrete. Vents were added to help relieve pressure on the concrete, especially in the lower pool.
Still, Carr conceded there will be water loss – up to 100,000 gallons a day – from leakage, splashing, filter backwash and evaporation.
Jeff Gustin, vice president of Liquid Design, acted as senior project manager for the artificial river and coordinated the work of 24 subcontractors, who had as many as 200 workers onsite at one time.
Those subs had to be convinced they could do the work because “it wasn’t the typical job they did every day,” Carr said. “But we broke the work down and showed them they could do it cost-effectively and quickly.”
RodgersDooley took responsibility for erosion-control monitoring of the site instead of handing it off to the site coordinator. The center sits on the Catawba’s dirtiest tributary, Long Creek, where runoff is a major problem.
“This was just too important to us,” Carr said. To prevent further damage to the river from construction, Rodgers personnel took classes on erosion control and used double-silt fences and multibaffled erosion control ponds on the site.
Despite its name, Liquid Design had no previous whitewater park experience. (Liquid refers to the company’s flexibility, Williams said.)
But Williams added that he is now eager to use what he learned. “Charlotte won’t be the last of these super parks, and now that we have figured out the technology, we can put one in anyone’s backyard,” he said.