Boise Prepares For Next Wave of Improvements to Whitewater Park

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  • Boise Department of Parks and Recreation

The second phase of Boise’s whitewater park will include three more waves, terrace seating, and a connection from Veteran’s Pond all the way to Quinn’s Pond for paddlers.

During a Feb. 26 meeting, city of Boise Engineer John Tensen presented plans to overhaul the river’s banks with native vegetation and natural cobble-sand beaches. He also displayed a new Greenbelt path that would largely bypass the river bank where he expects boater and pedestrian traffic to be highest.

More than 100 people—a mix between boaters sans lifejackets and helmets, hardcore Greenbelt commuters, graying folks and nature-enthusiasts—attended the meeting.

The presentation team included McMillen, a local environmental engineering firm; S2o Design, a Colorado-based whitewater park design firm, famous for designing the London Summer Olympics kayak course; and DHM Design, a river restoration landscaping team.

Scott Shipley, of S2o, seemed most excited about providing a boating experience for everybody with Phase Two of the whitewater park.

“The wave in place now gives a great experience, but it’s a certain experience,” Shipley said. His firm had no involvement in the first wave’s development. He said he wants to create the next step for beginning kayakers, after they have learned to paddle and roll in Quinn’s Pond.

The first wave in the new series will be wider than the current wave, letting boaters surf next to each other and not have to wait around as long for their turns. He envisions the second wave to be a rodeo wave, perfect for national competitions—similar to the Payette River Games in Cascade. The last feature will be a gentler, less intimidating wave with a shallower drop for beginner and intermediate boaters.

Shipley wants to build a whitewater park that he said, “facilitates programs that are cutting edge for the sport.”

He said the features should be accessible to inland surfers and body boarders as well. He even plans to put in a wheelchair-accessible boat dock for paraplegic kayakers. And he’s excited about the three-quarter-mile loop of paddling that will be made available when the ponds are connected, so instead of boaters having to lug their boats along the bank, they’ll be able to paddle straight to the top of the features.

The new phases of the whitewater park will be integral to the future Esther Simplot Park. Every element caters to a family-friendly park atmosphere, from the terraced lawn seating, to the natural boulders that make the river features, to the beach-like boater take-outs and wading areas. The presentation included pictures of the banks as they are now: steep and depleted of vegetation, with chunks of concrete protruding out.

The plan includes building a box culvert for the Famers Union Canal—the oldest diversion in the Boise River’s irrigation system, currently running through Veteran’s Memorial Park—and putting a large section of the diversion underground. Then the city would reroute the Greenbelt to run on the opposite side of Veteran’s Pond from where it is now, to keep commuter traffic flowing.

The city already paid for the planning phase of the whitewater park expansion, costing around $250,000, but the rest of the multimillion-dollar project will be funded through private donation. The Friends of the Park is a team of volunteers responsible for the fundraising.

Beth Markley of Friends of the Park told BW they’ll have an easier time raising funds for this project than they did for the first whitewater wave. She said that wave was the first of its kind, so they had to paint a picture of something that didn’t exist yet to get donors on board. This time, they already have a track record of something tangible to build upon.

Depending on funds, the earliest Boisians could see the park done will be summer 2017. Construction would require part of the river to be diverted and dried up completely.

But the meeting turned surprisingly tense when the floor opened up for questions. Folks from the boating community asked over and over about parking, fearing 250 spaces wouldn’t be enough for large competitions.

“Where are athletes going to park their RVs?” someone asked. “People aren’t going to want to shuttle in.”

Others were concerned about losing the Greenbelt for two years during the construction.

“We have an amazing resource here,” said a man who commutes on the Greenbelt from West Boise daily. “And it seems like an inconvenience for your construction.”

Planners reassured him that the Garden City side will still have a functioning path. But that brought up other questions. If Boise throws millions of dollars into their side of the river, will the Garden City side still be filled with invasive weeds and eroding concrete?

What about water features for surfers? Will tubers get adventurous and float beyond their Ann Morrison take-out, causing a safety threat? Will we lose a place to walk our dogs off-leash? What about the turtles?

Yes, someone asked about turtle habitat.

Though he’s a seasoned user of the current whitewater wave, AJ Wiggs told BW he’s nervous about this expansion.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” the kayaker said. “An expansion opens the area up to more people, but that also opens it up to more user conflicts, especially with tubers. It’s good because it potentially spreads people out so they’re not all concentrated on that one wave, but that’s just a risk of expansion.”

Now, the design team will take the comments back to the drawing board and plan to hold another meeting in the spring, addressing the public’s concerns. At that next meeting, they plan to release a cost estimate.