Small town whitewater dreams meet big logistical challenges
Originally published in Paddling Magazine. Palmers Rapids, ON.
Perhaps you’ve heard this story before. A small town has a big dream—to build a whitewater park. Everything’s going smoothly, the funds are coming in, the locals are on board, maybe there’s even an Olympic pro touring the site and hyping up the whitewater.
Then, enter ‘the man’—the logistics, the regulators. And there goes that dream.
This is the case for many wannabe whitewater parks attempting to put themselves on the map.
Where the Rogue River flows in Gold Hill, Oregon, a town of just over 1,200 people, the fine print details are an ever-present issue for cultivating a paddling paradise.
“The only people who make a living on this stretch of river are the regulators,” says Steve Kiesling, a former Olympic rower and the man behind what he hopes will one day be the Gold Hill Whitewater Park.
The project started in 2005 when esteemed park designer Rick McLaughlin—a designer for the 1996 Olympic whitewater slalom racecourse in Ocoee River—saw potential for a kayak training site and play park. Between McLaughlin and Kiesling, the idea for the next paddling paradise was born.
But it wasn’t long before local government put a halt to the project. They were concerned it would interfere with the removal of a nearby damn.
It wasn’t until 2011 when the US Department of Agriculture and City of Gold Hill underwent a study on the economic impact of the site that they came on board with the idea. They determined the site could put $7 million into the local economy annually. So in 2012, the city of Gold Hill included the park in its strategic plan.
But despite having the local government behind them, Kiesling and McLaughlin are still hitting roadbumps every step of the journey.
Just recently, Kiesling says a county-code enforcement officer slipped them a warning saying the temporary boathouse they constructed out of an old railroad container was deemed illegal. It was within the floodplain area and had to be removed.
The whitewater centre project became an official not-for-profit last year but the park, with all it’s amenities, is still a dream. And the dream is costing Kiesling—he’s personally poured at least $12,000 into the project.
This story could easily have been the case with Kelly’s Whitewater Park (add link to your story), the whitewater Mecca of Cascade, Idaho.
A volunteer group in Cascade had been working on building a park for three years when Mark Pickard, a Wall Street retiree, and his wife decided to back the project in full. Before Pickard joined the team local park hopefuls had raised only $15,000 from a variety of small fundraisers such as cupcake sales. Just one year following their initial pitch announcement to the governor of Idaho in March of 2009, the park opened its doors.
By backing the project in full, it was likely no coincidence that Pickard was able to skip the yellow tape.
“With our own money we made the river accessible, cleaned it up and made it a real destination spot,” says Pickard.
“It’s helping the economy and people know it.”
It’s no surprise that money opens doors. But most small towns won’t be as lucky as Cascade, whose whitewater ambitions were answered with a Wall Street angel.
The majority of the population 1,000 towns will have to plug away at issues of permitting with only the glimmer of a whitewater vision to guide them.
For Kiesling and rest of the Gold Hill hopefuls going through the ropes, it’s a matter of patience and perseverance. Thankfully, they have lots of that.
To follow their progress, visit goldhillwhitewater.org
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