Whitewater Park Receives $3.3 Million EDA Grant

The Yampa River Corridor Project is expected to start in early fall 2022.
Town of Craig/Courtesy Photo

Craig received $3.3 million in economic development administration assistance for coal communities for the construction of the Yampa River Corridor Project.

The Corridor Project is the result of a multi-year planning process with local agencies designed to stabilize and diversify the economy in Craig and Moffat counties following the closure of coal mines and the power plant.

The city and county worked together to secure this federal funding for the project, which will improve the city’s water intake infrastructure, as well as add new amenities for visitors along the river.

EDA funding will cover approximately 70% of project costs, which were estimated at $4.6 million this year.

Yampa River Corridor project manager Melanie Kilpatrick said counterpart partners are committed to funding the rest of the project, and the only variable may be inflation, which has affected other projects over the years. .

The corridor project includes several upgrades to Loudy Simpson Park, including a new concrete boat launch, access road and parking area, as well as upgrading the existing diversion dam site with a whitewater park, access road, parking area and park facilities.

According to a statement from Kilpatrick, the project fits into Craig’s master plan for parks, recreation, open spaces and trails. It also aligns with the Moffat County Vision 2025 transition plan, which outlines proactive strategies to help the community transition from a coal-centric economy.

The objective of EDA funding is to support economic resilience by diversifying the region’s economic base. The idea is that having an outdoor recreational facility so close to town will entice more visitors to spend time in town, creating a ripple effect on the local economy.

As visitors bring money back to tourism, the employees who serve those tourists then spend money on other goods and services in town. There have been studies in other communities where similar projects have taken place to measure the economic impact of whitewater parks.

  • A 2006 study in Durango estimated that whitewater recreation created 33 jobs per $1 million in annual sales from tourist dollars.
  • In 2009, the University of Idaho estimated that a whitewater park in Cascade, Idaho generated $8.2 million annually from this ripple effect.
  • A whitewater park in Truckee, Nevada reported economic benefits ranging from $1.9 million to $4.1 million per year.

Good Vibes River Gear and Craig RV Park, local employers whose businesses would directly benefit from the growth of river tourism, have pledged to add more than 30 new full-time employees. And it is estimated that the project will create about 129 new jobs in direct and adjacent industries.

“We are committed to Craig,” said Josh Veenstra, owner of Good Vibes. “We produce our equipment right here in town. When more river rats stop here for the day, we can sell more produce – and that means we can create more local jobs. It can be good for us and great for Craig.

Kilpatrick said the project will widen access to the river for a variety of different boaters, while adding benefits for the general public.

A new concrete boat launch will be added at a more suitable location a quarter mile downstream from the picnic area. A new parking area will include nine boat trailer spaces, 28 single vehicle spaces and three ADA spaces.

The existing City of Craig water intake diversion dam is a 200 foot wide and 10 foot high barrier made of concrete block and rip rap. Kilpatrick said in a statement that the existing diversion is in poor condition and needs updating.

In its current state, the diversion can also pose a hazard to boaters and it blocks the passage of many species of fish, several of which are federally listed endangered species.

Replacing the current diversion dam with a natural channel design will allow the city to continue to draw its allocated water from the river and improve boater safety and fish passage year-round.

“It supports the city’s water supply in a fiscally responsible way. It’s hugely important to us,” Kilpatrick said. “We’re getting better fish passage and healthier aquatic and riparian habitat. We get better access to the river. And we get the economic development associated with whitewater recreation.

Kilpatrick said the design of the natural channel is what will enable the creation of a new whitewater park. The river park will have enough river water to allow for good boating and enough elevation to create challenging features.

The design of the whitewater park features two “drop structures” submerged in narrow river channels, providing paddlers with significant drops to navigate, as well as multiple whirlpools and chutes. A new parking lot and an access point for small boats will be added near the whitewater park.

In addition to federal funding received, the city and county make significant financial contributions. The city is contributing $658,656 and the county $150,000.

City and county staff worked together for several years to secure additional matching funds required by the federal grant.

Raising funds and increasing cost estimates was a challenge, and within two years, project costs nearly doubled. But city and county staff were able to secure funding for the full amount of the project.

“Construction prices have jumped rapidly,” said city manager Peter Brixius. “Price increases would not surprise anyone who has thought of a small renovation or landscaping project for their home. It is important that we do this now. We can lock in our prices, start working in and around the river and start seeing the benefits of our planning.”

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