Source: Vail Daily 6/3/2005
AVON - Avon wants to turn five miles of the Eagle River from Eagle-Vail to Edwards into a world-class water park that will attract kayakers, rafters and fishermen and provide a boon to the local economy.
To pull-off the plan, the town will need the help and money of other community organizations to help re-sculpt parts of the river from the I-70 bridge at Eagle-Vail to the Miller Creek Bridge in Edwards. Proponents estimate the project will cost $800,000 but will create an economic bonanza.
Water users ranging from fishermen to floaters say the proposal is a winner.
"One thing this will do is to make the Vail Valley a whitewater destination stop," said Darryl Bangert of Lakota Guides, a local rafting company. "It ties in with the Teva Games. Front Range paddlers will find out what waves are working through moutainbuzz.com."
In a preliminary report, a design team said the river has "world-class potential" because of its constant grade and a boulder-strewn streambottom that helps create good kayaking, rafting and fishing conditions. The "boatability" of the river could be improved by building four or more structures to impede the flow of the river, forming standing waves and slower-moving eddys. Those waves attract kayakers seeking to surf them.
A good $ idea
The reason behind the park? Money. Water enthusiasts spend freely, the Avon report states. A whitewater park created in Golden on Clear Creek, which cost $165,000 to build, generates an estimated $1.4 million to $2 million annually for the area.
"We've looked at other parks and they're generating to the economy - within a one-to two-year period - the lifelong cost of the improvements," said Larry Brooks, Avon town manager. "We're seeing a great return economically."
Finding money to construct structures and other facilities - including parking and changing areas for users - will require a joint effort between the town, county, local homeowner groups and other special districts and organizations, the report stated.
One of the wave-producing "drop structures" will be built beneath "Bob," Avon's famous bridge. Others will be built in Eagle-Vail and Edwards.
"Bob the Bridge is the conceptual whitewater centerpiece with an emphasis on accommodating spectators and having the potential for world-class whitewater competitions and events," the study concluded.
When properly designed, drop structures can provide paddling and surfing challenges over a wide range of flows, Bangert said.
It's not a new idea, but because of the increasing popularity of kayaking, it could be one idea whose time has arrived. Nearly 20 years ago a similar effort was made, but it failed, said Bangert.
"Twenty years ago people weren't ready to listen, and kayaking wasn't big enough," he said. "Now the time has come."
The early efforts failed because the drop structures built to create waves in Eagle-Vail and Avon weren't properly constructed and didn't work, Bangert said. The idea to try it again grew out of a conversation several months ago between Avon Mayor Ron Wolfe and Councilman Brian Sipes.
Part of the conceptual plan calls for development of put-in and take-out access points and areas for parking, too.
An added benefit of the project would stem from the increased attention the river would receive.
"Because there would be more attention on the river, it would raise awareness," said Caroline Bradford, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, a river watchdog group. "It's a terrific idea."
Studies conducted elsewhere on similar river recreation projects seem to show it helps the fishing, too, said Bill Perry of Flyfishing Outfitters in Avon.
"By adding structure to the river you increase the habitat and holding capacity for fish," he said, adding that fish in some stretches of the river could be protected by catch-and-release regulations. Perry also said he believes the proposal could become an economic generator for the county's economy.
Avon, East West Partners and Vail Resorts - all of which own land along the river - contributed the $5,000 for the initial study, said Brooks.
The proposal will receive a public airing June 14 when the Avon Town Council discusses the particulars of the project.
"You're going to be hard-pressed to find people who don't like the idea of enhancing the river," Brooks said. "It's more than a recreational park. It covers everything from flyfishing to aquatic life and health to inner tubing and boating. It's a much broader thing."
Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or [email protected]