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River remedy?

Tom Boyd

A high-water year has heightened interest in a project that would make for safer navigation of a man-made obstacle in the Eagle River near the Eagle County Fairgrounds.The stretch of river known as “Rodeo Rapid” was once a diversion dam for irrigation, and local whitewater enthusiasts are calling for a repair of the dam and improvement of the whitewater conditions there.”Sooner or later someone will get hurt or even killed in (that rapid) if they don’t do something about it,” says Timberline Tours’ Billy Mattison, who has been kayaking and rafting the Eagle River for 23 years.”It’s one thing if it’s a natural hydraulic,” Mattison says. “But this is a man-made problem out there, and I’m surprised they haven’t already done something about it.”Citizen activist Lori Russel has put two presentations in front of the county commissioners in an effort to convince the commissioners to allocate the $20,000 to $50,000 needed to repair the diversion dam “and make that portion of the river safer and more fun,” she says.Eagle County engineer Helen Migchelbrink says two attempts to repair the dam have failed in the past. She also says the project is “nebulous at this point,” and that it needs more definition before the county can feel comfortable approving repairs.The project becomes complicated because whitewater enthusiasts and fishermen are interested in possibly doing more for the river than simply reinstating flow to the irrigation ditch. Fish habitat restoration and a whitewater park are also possible byproducts of the dam repair.But whitewater parks are a sticky subject after a 2002 Colorado Supreme Court ruling allows parks in-stream flow water rights.Until the citizenry formally announces what it hopes to see in that stretch of water, the county commissioners won’t be able to budget for the project.County Commissioner Arn Menconi says he has already received dozens of letters calling for an improvement in the area.Menconi says he has “an overall vision of trying to create amenities for the mountain biking, kayaking, rafting and overall recreation communities,” and that he supports improvements to the river near the fairgrounds.The question seems to be what to call the project. A dam repair has different ramifications than a water park in the legal world, but either effort would accomplish virtually the same thing as far as the effect on the course and nature of the rapid there.”Because of the obstacles of building a whitewater park, this is the way we can deliver many of the same benefits to the community,” Menconi says.Golden’s water park has been a keystone of success in community development, creating a $24 million economic impact on the town. Advocates say an improvement to the waterway in Eagle could have the same effect.”The river is almost as great an attribute as Vail Mountain as far as drawing people to town,” says Saloon owner and kayaker Steve Campbell. “We have a tremendous asset here and it doesn’t take a whole lot to improve it more.”Despite the growing interest in improving the river, Migchelbrink says she doesn’t want to take any shortcuts.”A rose by any other name is still a rose,” she says. “We’re a responsible government, and we would involve all the public authorities that would have an interest in this, because we’re going to be above board with this. We’re not going to try and sneak anything through.”The commissioners are now taking comments on this topic. They are available via e-mail at michael.gallagher@eaglecounty.us, arn.menconi@eaglecounty.us, and tom.stone@eaglecounty.us.


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