Vail Daily column: Eagle River Park is rolling along right on course | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Eagle River Park is rolling along right on course

Scott Willoughby
Valley Voices
The basic outline of the Eagle River Park includes lawns (green), beaches (yellow) and a plaza area (purple) between Fairgrounds Road and the Eagle River.
Amanda Swanson | aswanson@vaildaily..com |

Like the Eagle River itself, the town of Eagle’s forthcoming Eagle River Park has been a fascinating example of evolution. Twists and turns, ebb and flow — they’re all part of the process of finding equilibrium.

It’s been a long, exciting ride already, with highly anticipated improvements only a few months away for the heavily impacted stretch of river passing through town. A series of open public gatherings alternating with steering committee meetings have guided the progress of park designers and engineers over the past year, building on the long-term vision seeded by Eagle town planners and nurtured by the community at large since 2014.

By some calculations, you could say we’re halfway there, maybe just a little more. It has been about a year since the town began collecting sales taxes dedicated to funding parks in Eagle, including the new Eagle River Park. The four in-stream river features anchoring the park have been designed to 95 percent, and the deadline for comments on the construction permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed July 1.

Groundbreaking is expected in late fall, and river riders should be surfing the new waves next spring.

The upland portion of the Eagle River Park has evolved to the 60 percent design phase in time to meet its Friday deadline and is shaping up as a true gem filling the otherwise rough space between the Eagle County Fairgrounds and the currently underutilized Chambers Park area, where a new boat ramp was installed just two years ago.

Issues over a small private-property inholding have been resolved, along with a series of cool, smart refinements designed to incorporate community input and address occasionally spirited debate.

The consensus of folks who have taken the time to study the plans and participate in the public process seems to be that the Eagle River Park is the kind of place where they’d like to spend some time with friends and family.

“I’d never taken this exit for the fairgrounds and rest area before, so I never knew this little area was here. But I’m happy I discovered it and the plan for the park looks really, really great. You have a lot of variety, but at the same time, you’re keeping it natural, too,” said Nancy Skoog, of Minneapolis, who reviewed design plans for the park while visiting her son and grandchildren at the Eagle River Jam last month.

“It’s very family-oriented here, and I think this will be great for families. It’s a remarkable change for the better.”

Skoog’s sister lived in Eagle some 40 years ago, when “the town looked very different,” she said. Now it’s her son’s turn, landing in Eagle Ranch four years ago after relocating from Jackson, Wyoming.

“That’s one thing I had to get adjusted to — moving to Eagle from Jackson — is that they had a lot of new infrastructure up there, where here they didn’t. So any time they do things like this, I support it,” said Noel Skoog, adding that he voted for the half-cent sales tax increase used to fund park improvements in Eagle. “As long as it’s super kid-friendly, then it’s good for us. And that’s sort of how Eagle is — kid-friendly.”

Current upland park plans drafted by local landscape architects Zehren and Associates reflect Eagle’s kid-friendly character in a variety of ways, including plans for a climbing wall, a pair of riverside beaches, an interactive water feature and river access that grows increasingly friendly as water levels recede and temperatures climb throughout the summer months.

A pavilion and bathroom facilities combine with a multi-use lawn, plaza, picnic areas, terraced boulder seating along the waterfront and a pair of fire pits to offer more opportunities for families to spend time making memories in Eagle.

“What I personally like about the park right now is that you have one little climbing area in there right now, but you don’t have a big playground. We’ve got playgrounds. And I want my kids to play with nature,” said Jean Cummins, a dedicated stand-up paddler from Gypsum. “Nothing against playgrounds, but we prefer to take our kids to the river, to the beach, to the woods. That’s where I like to play, and it’s nice to have that for the kids, too. It’s more of a natural play area.”

Like many mountain dwellers, Cummins said she seeks the beach wherever her family can find one. So she’s particularly fond of that aspect of the Eagle River Park design and is confident that the waves breaking on Eagle’s new “beach” will appeal to many others, as well.

“There are a lot of people here that love being on the river, and that’s growing more and more. The season for the Eagle River is so short that if the features they’re putting in can extend that, then it will definitely make an impact and attract people to the area,” Cummins said.

“I marvel that you can design it to become more usable and extend the season, as opposed to just the natural river flow. Right now, I know a lot of people who go to (the Glenwood Whitewater Park) because it’s the closest feature that’s consistent. I think this would attract some of them. So that’s pretty great.”

Eagle resident Scott Willoughby is a former outdoors editor at The Denver Post now working as an independent communications consultant for the town of Eagle. Find more information about the Eagle River Park at eagleoutside.com/riverpark.