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Cleansing the Past with White Water

Guy Hand
11/23/2007

You're probably familiar with skateboard parks. Now get ready for white water parks. They're skateboard parks with rapids. Engineers place structures in rivers to make custom courses that kayakers and other boaters can then ride. There are roughly a hundred scattered across the U.S. The Northwest has yet to take the plunge. But as Guy Hand reports, that's about to change.

CARTER: "We're on the site now, the former Boise Cascade mill. It's almost a hundred acres here."

THAT'S CASCADE, IDAHO MAYOR DICK CARTER.

CARTER: "Off to the left was some of the mill yard, the log yard to our right..."

HE'S DESCRIBING THE MOONSCAPE WE HAVE TO DRIVE THROUGH TO GET TO THE SITE OF WHAT COULD BECOME THE NORTHWEST'S FIRST WHITE WATER PARK.

CARTER: "...and all the stuff that you see here is the old refuge from the mill, the old logs and sawdust and that's being ground up now and sold as soil amendment..."

CASCADE'S WHITE WATER PARK PROPOSAL IS AS MUCH ABOUT ERASING A MILL–TOWN PAST AS BUILDING A RECREATIONAL FUTURE.

LUMBER GIANT BOISE CASCADE CLOSED THIS MILL IN 2001. IT DROPPED CASCADE FROM IT'S VERY NAME. MANY IN THIS CENTRAL IDAHO MOUNTAIN TOWN TOOK THAT PERSONALLY.

CARTER: "It was a real financial disaster for Cascade so I think we're getting out of all of that. Our goal is to make this one of the best recreational areas we can."

THE HEART OF THIS NEW RECREATIONAL AREA WILL BE THE PAYETTE RIVER — A RIVER ALREADY FAMOUS FOR WHITE WATER. BUT THIS IS A STRETCH FEW PEOPLE HAVE SEEN. IT WAS A WORKING RIVER, ERODED, USED TO TRANSPORT LOGS.

DEVON BARKER, A PROFESSIONAL KAYAKER SEES POTENTIAL IN THE RIVER AS SHE WATCHES IT RUN BY THE MILL'S OLD STONE JETTY.

BARKER: "That width that we're looking at here can be constricted and deep enough, the pool backed up, that you can do all the biggest tricks in freestyle. Air loops, where your boat does a complete summersault forward three feet off the water, can be doable right there."

BARKER SHOULD KNOW. SHE'S KAYAKED DOZENS OF WHITE WATER PARKS. SHE SAYS A FEW WELL PLACED BOULDERS AND SLABS OF CUSTOM CONCRETE CAN TRANSFORM A RIVER-AND THE TOWNS THAT PUT THEM IN. MISSOULA, RENO, AND SALIDA, COLORADO HAVE ALL BUILT WHITE WATER PARKS AND SEEN THEIR BLIGHTED RIVER FRONTS REBORN.

BARKER: "It just becomes a central focus in many of these small towns. You just really get to see now the community utilizing the river, they clean up the river beds, so even if the people in the community aren't kayakers they can come and swim, they can inner tube, they can enjoy the seating along the river for their picnic lunches."

IN THE NORTHWEST, WHITE WATER PROMOTERS ARE PUSHING FOR PARKS IN BOISE, BEND, SPOKANE, AND MORE. ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS LIKE AMERICAN WHITEWATER AND IDAHO RIVERS UNITED SAY WELL DESIGNED PARKS CAN IMPROVE FISH HABITAT. BUT THEY OPPOSE PARKS IN PRISTINE OR FREE–FLOWING RIVERS. SAM MACE, WITH SPOKANE TROUT UNLIMITED, WORRIES THE PARKS ARE JUST GETTING TOO BIG TOO FAST.

MACE: "I am concerned at the quick proliferation of these proposals across the west, whether we have all the data that we need on what the impacts are. I think it kind of raises some concerns about the changes and manipulations we're doing to rivers, most of which have already been heavily manipulated and changed by humans to begin with."

CARTER: "I guess you could say we're fiddling with nature, but we're fiddling with nature in a positive way."

CASCADE MAYOR DICK CARTER.

CARTER: "We look at it as a way of kind of healing the wounds that have been here and helping Mother Nature get it back to where it was."

MAYOR CARTER HOPES TO TURN AT LEAST A PORTION OF THE OLD MILL SITE INTO A PARK. IF ALL GOES WELL, CONSTRUCTION ON CASCADE'S WHITE WATER PROJECT WILL BEGIN THIS WINTER. I'M GUY HAND REPORTING.

℗ Copyright 2007, KUOW News

11.28.14

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