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Upper Colorado River-Gore Canyon Whitewater Park, Proposed by Grand County, CO

Posted: 02/29/2012
By: Nathan Fey

Upper Colorado River-Gore Canyon Whitewater Park

Grand County has proposed the Gore Canyon Whitewater Park in the Colorado River which consists of two features or “waves” in the river and a new put-in and take-out access to the river along with parking and other facilities (the Project). The Project complements the County’s broader goal for the Upper Colorado River--to protect, restore and enhance the river ecosystem and provide nationally protected, outstandingly remarkable, diverse river based recreational opportunities. As part of the larger Grand County Stream Management Plan, the County proposes to construct two white-water features–Inspiration Point and Launch Counter--that create a ‘park and play’ whitewater park for beginner, intermediate and advanced whitewater enthusiasts in a location that is immensely popular with recreational river enthusiasts state-wide as well as destination travelers from across the country. By constructing a new river access point and a new whitewater park, the variety of river based recreational opportunities on the Upper Colorado River for boaters and spectators will be significantly enhanced.

LOCATION: The Project is located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administered land near the Pumphouse Recreational Site in Grand County, adjacent to the Headwaters National Scenic Byway. (See attached map) This scenic location is 16 miles east of Highway 131 at State Bridge and 16 miles west of Kremmling in Grand County on the historic Trough Road. In the photo above, the outlet of Gore Canyon is in the background and the approximate locations of the wave features are shown with arrows. Grand County, Eagle County and the BLM carefully manage the Colorado River to protect this national treasure.

SITE SELECTION PROCESS: This Gore Canyon site near Pumphouse was chosen in 2010 after outreach at public meetings to commercial outfitters, the Colorado River Outfitters Association, private boaters from across the region, BLM recreational staff, municipal planners, American Whitewater and private property owners along the Colorado River. Through this consensus based collaborative process, this site was determined to be the most feasible site on the Upper Colorado River and provide the most benefits for Colorado boating enthusiasts. The Gore Canyon Whitewater Park will enhance and improve the recreational experience available on the Upper Colorado River by filling an important gap in the opportunities for ‘park and play’ boaters who are drawn to this region by the thousands. The project avoids increasing impacts to wildlife in this important migration corridor by keeping a wide variety of recreational uses concentrated in an existing developed and managed BLM recreational site. At the same time, the Project adds a new put-in and take-out access point to the river which helps separate uses with the existing Pumphouse site.

According to the Bureau of Land Management estimates, the Upper Colorado River in Grand County was visited by over 76,690 visitors in summer of 2010; 25,960 visitors on this reach were private boaters. While commercial use is steady, private boater use has quadrupled in the past 10 years--doubling since 2006. Commercial outfitters and private boaters float and fish the popular Class II-III Pump House to Radium and Rancho Del Rio reaches on the Upper Colorado below this site. Expert level thrill seekers run the challenging Class IV/V Gore Canyon above this site. The proposed Gore Canyon Whitewater Park provides an ideal location between these diverse and popular reaches to cater to the thousands of new boaters who visit this area each year but don’t have an accessible, safe site to simply “park and play” in one convenient location.

CURRENT CONDITION OF THE RIVER: The current condition of the Upper Colorado River in this reach is excellent. Through an extensive public planning process, the BLM has found this reach of the Upper Colorado River to provide “Outstandingly Remarkable Values” (ORVs) that are eligible for protection under the national Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. These “Outstandingly Remarkable Values” include recreational float boating, fishing, recreational scenic driving, geologic values, historic values, wildlife values and scenic values. Grand County has completed an extensive Stream Management Plan that seeks to protect, restore and enhance the environmental and recreational values of the streams in Grand County, including this reach of the Colorado River. The open space in this area will be managed for protection of the “Outstandingly Remarkable Values” by the BLM. The construction of the Gore Canyon Whitewater Park will be consistent with the federal, as well as local management objectives of the river and lands in this area and does not preclude any management alternatives being considered by BLM.

INDIVIDUAL PROJECT ELEMENTS: Grand County's Gore Canyon Whitewater Park is divided into two general elements: Those constructed on land and those constructed in the river.
· The elements on land include a new access road, a parking lot, a standard BLM double vault toilet with screened changing rooms, four benches, four picnic tables and six educational signs, and related facilities.
· The elements in the river include two features about 1/3 of a mile apart, each of which creates “waves” and each of which is designed to create different recreational experiences that appeal to skill levels ranging from beginner, to intermediate, to expert.

LONG RANGE VISION: The Project fits into the County’s larger vision to protect and enhance the Upper Colorado River ecosystem and provide diverse river based recreational opportunities. Towards that end, Grand County and a number of stakeholders have planned and partially implemented a series of steps that are related to the Project. GOCO funding is not being sought for these Project related elements that include the Grand County Stream Management Plan and the proposed Colorado River Cooperative Agreement announced by the Governor in April of this year which will resolve long-standing east/west slope water disputes. Almost completed is the negotiation of 11,000 acre feet of water that could be released from multiple sources that will benefit the environment and enhance recreational uses in the Colorado River at the most critical times of the year. Grand County and American Whitewater have been active leaders in the Wild & Scenic Stakeholder Group’s Alternative Management Plan developed as part of BLM’s Resource Management Plan for the Upper Colorado River. Grand County has worked extensively with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Denver Water to protect the flows of water that would be released from the headwaters of the Fraser River through Colorado River, including the reach of this Project. All this collaborative decision making process lay the foundation for diverse partners to support the Upper Colorado River-Gore Canyon Whitewater Park.

TIMING: Planning for the Project began in 2010, when preliminary engineering designs for the whitewater features were completed. Archeological investigations on a significant portion of the area have been conducted by BLM. Engineering cost opinions have been completed. Grand County Commissioners have committed in-kind resources valued at over $1 million to the construction of the access road and parking lot. The permit process with the Army Corps of Engineers may be completed in 2012. The BLM permitting process including the
Environmental Assessment may be completed in early 2013. Road construction could take place during summer 2014 with in-stream work taking place over fall 2014 and early winter 2015. Final installation of bathroom facilities and educational signage can be completed in spring of 2015. If sufficient funds are awarded in 2012, the project can be completed within three years.

There is a synergy and new way of doing business on the Upper Colorado River with the collaboration that has been demonstrated with the proposed Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, and the Stakeholder Group for Wild and Scenic process. The time is ripe for the Upper Colorado River Gore Canyon Whitewater Park to be implemented. The need to move these projects forward creates an urgency to secure funds to implement these elements. Great Outdoors Colorado is poised to become a key player in the legacy of implementing these historic
water agreements.

The Upper Colorado River from Grand County through Glenwood Canyon is a nationally known destination for summer visitors to Colorado. BLM issues permits to 55 commercial outfitters from across Colorado to run this river. Regionally, the Upper Colorado River attracts about 1,000 visitors every day (BLM, 2010) from the Front Range as well as the west slope. The economic value of visitor day use to this site is over $13,000,000 annually (ASU 2007), a tremendous economic value to the towns in the area. Residents and tourists from Eagle, Grand, Summit, Routt and Garfield Counties use the area extensively. Other popular urban ‘park and play’ whitewater parks are located in Glenwood Springs, Vail, Avon, Frisco and Steamboat Springs—all within about an hour’s drive. These sizable populations of enthusiastic boaters would all benefit from the construction of an additional whitewater park in this location. As with traditional urban parks, residents and visitors will use more than one Whitewater Park when they are available.

National recognition of the site is highlighted each August with the Gore Canyon Festival, one of Colorado’s most popular whitewater festivals. The Project will provide direct benefits to this event by providing a new take out point, additional features for competition and generating national and international media attention. Exceptional whitewater features like the proposed Project become destinations for both boaters and spectators.

Grand County will obtain “Right of Way” permits from the BLM to construct the Project. Grand County will construct the access road and parking. The site will be managed by the Kremmling Field Office of the BLM. The BLM, Grand County and Eagle County have committed to work together to manage the reach of the Upper Colorado River as a “recreational stream segment.” American Whitewater and several commercial outfitters are interested in partnering with Grand County to support the outreach and educational objectives associated with the increasing recreational use of the Upper Colorado River. Communicating appropriate stewardship messages to the public is especially important. Our educational stakeholders will include the Division ofWildlife, American Whitewater, Blue River Watershed Group, the Eagle River Watershed Council, and the Grand County Water Information Network. Local municipalities including Granby, Fraser, and Hot Sulphur Springs have expressed their support as have neighboring community government representatives in Eagle and Summit Counties.

Grand County and American Whitewater hve been working tirelessly for over five years with stakeholders to ensure appropriate protection of the Upper Colorado River ecosystem. All of these stakeholders have invested significant amounts of time and resources in the process—from staff and elected officials to consultants and technical experts. We anticipate that some stakeholders will also provide financial assistance to the project.

The Project can demonstrate a tangible accomplishment of bringing together East/West Slope and public/private interests that value river based recreation as an important part of why we live in this state. The Colorado River- Gore Canyon Whitewater Park will serve as an example of good river design and best management construction practices for other whitewater parks in the state.
The experienced team of river engineers on the project works closely with the Division of Wildlife to consider all aspects of the natural river environment when planning the design of whitewater parks. The natural river system approach used to plan the Project takes into account the existing healthy aquatic habitat for all life stages of fish in the Colorado River. By minimizing grouted features, the tiny spaces found between the large rocks that control the flow of water will continue to provide important cover for young fish. Good design avoids the impediments for fish passage that can be created in some kayak parks when solid bank to bank high velocities effectively create barriers for upstream migration of fish. Extensive design specs for the ‘Care of Water’ are implemented to avoid unnecessary water quality impacts during construction. Appropriate vegetation is established to ensure riparian zone plantings are established to protect against nonpoint source pollution.

This reach of the Upper Colorado River is extremely popular with Learn-to-Kayak programs, youth programs and summer camps. The Gore Canyon Whitewater Park will provide easy access to an additional site to safely provide instruction for budding river enthusiasts. As part of its overall vision for the Upper Colorado River, the Project demonstrates Grand County’s resolve to further recreational opportunities for the State.

The Project provides new access to the Colorado River, which coupled with Eagle County’s efforts at State Bridge and below enhances the recreational opportunities for boating enthusiast. This project anticipates a pedestrian trail set an appropriate distance from the water linking the Inspiration Point wave with the Launch Counter wave.

There is no land purchase required in order to complete this project. The value of the land and new access to the river, while significant, has not been estimated as there is no direct funding necessary for this element. BLM is contributing the NEPA analysis. As noted above, the County will obtain the required permits. Detailed cost opinions and preliminary designs were prepared for Grand County by and Grand County engineers.

Lurline Underbrink-Curran, Grand County Manager,
Caroline Bradford, Project Coordinator,


Colorado Stewardship Director

Nathan Fey

1601 Longs Peak Ave.

Longmont, CO 80501

Phone: 303-859-8601
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Upper Colorado River (CO)

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