Eagle’s whitewater park draws praise, concern during first year of operation
Army Corps of Engineers awaiting results of hydrologic study detailing fish activity in the new park
EAGLE — Amid a challenging debut, the new whitewater park in Eagle made quite a splash during its opening season in the summer of 2019.
Construction on the park started over the winter of 2017-18 after Eagle taxpayers approved a sales tax increase to fund the park’s creation in 2016.
Before it was completed, concerns began to arise about the park.
Holly Loff with the Eagle River Watershed Council said a vegetation area was needed to improve the riparian area in the park, and a rain garden should be installed to better manage the stormwater runoff going into the river. She also said the watershed council was concerned about fish being able to pass through the river park’s features.
While the first two concerns have been alleviated, Loff said the group is still worried about fish passage through the area.
Whitewater enthusiast Ken Hoeve spent a lot of time at the park over the summer, starting a tube rental company that saw steady business from late spring until the end of August.
Hoeve said trout are a common sight in the whitewater park.
“They can swim upstream and jump right over these features,” Hoeve said.
Kendall Bakich with Colorado Parks & Wildlife said trout are the least of the wildlife experts’ concerns when it comes to fish passage through the Eagle park.
“Especially not a big trout that can jump,” Bakich said. “Most of the fish we’re talking about are not big jumpers.”
In addition to brown and rainbow trout, the Eagle River also contains sculpin, whitefish, and bluehead and flannelmouth suckers.
The concern is that some of the new concrete channels in the river don’t have a rough enough surface to break up the water column and “make velocity slow enough for fish of all species, all sizes, to get through,” Bakich said.
Fish passage isn’t only important to agencies like the parks and wildlife division, it’s also required by the Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates river structures like Eagle’s as part of its environmental stewardship obligations.
The corps issued the town of Eagle a permit to create the whitewater park in the Eagle River, and is now awaiting the results of a hydrologic study detailing the fish activity in the new park.
“We collected our data a little less than a month ago, and we are doing our analysis,” Eagle town manager Brandy Reitter told the Vail Daily on Oct. 9. “We’re going to put out a report by the end of the month, we have to submit that to the Army Corps, so everybody will see it, hopefully, by the end of the month. That’s one of the last things that we have to do, per the Army Corps, to make sure we are complaint there.”
But the town of Eagle is not studying the park solely based on Army Corps requirements, Reitter said. The town responded to Loff’s concerns about runoff and riperian areas as soon as those concerns were presented, Reitter said.
“These were requests that were made by our community, that we’re doing,” Reitter said. “It’s very important to the town that we listen to our constituents and are being prudent and doing what we can.”
After all, Reitter added, “there’s a lot of great stories to come out of that park this summer. People really do love it.”
Creating future advocates
One such story is that of 10-year-old Oliver Jones, who was there “pretty much every day” this summer, said his mother, Taleen Avedian.
The family lives near the river and while they do not let Oliver and his siblings play near it during high runoff, if Oliver were to somehow find himself in the river, now, after spending so much time in the whitewater park, “I think he would know what to do,” Avedian said.
For a parent, the amount of relief that comes with that realization is hard to describe, Avedian said.
When the family moved to Eagle from Michigan four years ago, having four kids playing near a rushing river was a scary situation, no matter what protections you have in place. Avedian had never heard of a whitewater park at the time, and while she voted for it, she didn’t truly understand what a whitewater park was until visiting Eagle’s on opening weekend in May.
While the whole family was impressed, Oliver was particularly fascinated, Avedian said.
“We wouldn’t let him go in the water while it was high, so he would just go there every day and watch the surfers,” she said.
She eventually bought him a wet suit and a board after the high water receded, “and he was hooked after that,” Avedian said.
Hoeve said Oliver quickly became one of the stars of the park.
“Oliver and all these kids who rode their bikes here every day, became better swimmers, developed a love of whitewater, that’s why we built this park,” Hoeve said.
And in theorizing about what the future of river protection advocacy will hold, Bakich said it’s people like Oliver who, thanks to parks like this one, will grow up to become the champions of river issues that the watershed will need.
“That’s the whole goal with that park, to bring people down to the river,” Bakich said. “People care about what they know, and if they’re not accessing the river, they don’t know the river.”
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