Whitewater Park maintenance delayed by high flows

Local slalom boaters are not the only ones experiencing a setback this fall. High flows on the Animas River have postponed planned maintenance on the city’s Whitewater Park at Santa Rita.

“It’s been too high and we can’t get in,” said Durango’s Director of Parks and Recreation Cathy Metz. “The water needs to be below 350 cfs to safely to work in the river, and that just hasn’t happened this summer.”

As of Tuesday, the Animas River’s flow at Durango was 525cfs.

As per the particulars of an Army Corp of Engineers permit issued to the City of Durango, the city is required to perform upkeep on the Whitewater Park. Since 1988, the city has authorized work on the Whitewater Park five times; this would be the sixth.

“Maintenance is on a five-year cycle at this park as far as whitewater purposes,” said John Brennan, member of the Animas River Task Force and frequent contributor to the river maintenance.

The Task Force, made up of various recreational stakeholders in the local river community, formed in

2001 in response to residents’ desires to upgrade the existing Whitewater Park and add features at other locations along the river. In the summer of 2005, the city-appointed board unveiled its master plan for the river, which involved shoring up eroding banks, maintaining and building new whitewater features, protecting fisheries, and creating low-water passages. However, those plans are on hold while the city awaits word on its request for a Recreational In-Channel Diversion, sometime next spring. If approved, the recreational water right would require the city to build permanent, or grouted, structures.

In the meantime, however, the city is hoping to at least get in the river to perform upkeep from a safety standpoint and to repair the popular Corner Pocket play spot, which sustained damage in the massive flood of spring 2005.

“Some of the shoreline damage through there is scary, both as a result of 2005’s runoff and the 8,000 cfs last month,” said Brennan. “There were some rocks that moved a lot, and there are some areas that have become dangerous.”

Metz said the city was ready to work in September, a time that was most preferred by the Division of Wildlife, and had a trackhoe lined up with Bonds Construction Co., but that has been put off until water levels drop. If and when the river does reach a low enough level, the city will have to get the work approved by the Army Corps.

“We will probably have to reconnect with the Army Corps,” she said. “We do have written permission, and they’ve been flexible with us in the past.”

Brennan said the work this time around will focus on the stretch of river just upstream of Corner Pocket on down. He said care will be taken to do the work as quickly and to tread as lightly as possible. Nevertheless, if residents want the level of play they’ve come to expect from the local playspots, periodic maintenance is unavoidable.

“There’s always going to be some shifting through that stretch of river,” he said. “We’ll continue to try to make it safe and continue to make it one of the best parks in the country.”

– Missy Votel