Mending the whitewater park
Significant maintenance and upgrades completed on Animas

SideStory: Celebrating the Animas: Revitalized Animas River Days readies for run-off

Local slalom racer Will Lokken bashes through Corner Pocket during 2005’s epic flood, during which the popular play hole blew out. The Animas River Task Force, headed up by John Brennan, recently made repairs to Corner Pocket as well as other play park features that were damaged during the run-off of ’05 and the 8,000 cfs flood last October. Brennan said features and berms were rebuilt lower to better withstand high-water beatings and some hazards were removed./Todd Newcomer file photo

by Missy Votel

Flows of biblical proportions may have created epic surf days in the last two years, but they also wreaked havoc on the Animas River. With two years of 8,000 cfs floods, in June of 2005 and again in October of 2006, the river’s shoreline and some of the Whitewater Park’s features took a beating.

But boaters longing for some quality time in their dearly beloved but recently departed play holes should be back in business come this spring.

“The river looks really good,” said John Brennan, member of the Animas River Task Force. In January, Brennan, who also is a coach for Durango Whitewater, oversaw repairs to the lower stretch of the 1,183-foot Whitewater Park. “With back-to-back 8,000-cfs years, people just don’t realize how much shoreline gets lost,” he said.

In light of the recent high flows, Brennan said the goal was to rebuild the river’s play features so they could better withstand such an event. “We went in and rebuilt the existing berms smarter,” he said. “We built them lower so they could better handle high flows.”

As per a permit with the Army Corps of Engineers, the City of Durango is responsible for periodic maintenance of the whitewater course. As per the permit, no new material can be added and repairs can only involve existing rocks.

Brennan said perhaps the most notable repair was made to the popular Corner Pocket hole, which sustained damage in the flood of 2005 and was basically obsolete all of last year. “Stuff collapsed, so we went in and put everything back to the way it was,” he said, adding that rocks were repositioned to fortify the jetty that creates the hole. “Everything should hold a lot better now.”

Other popular spots receiving makeovers included the Clock Tower Hole, a river right feature toward the end of the whitewater course. The berm that created that hole several years back had collapsed and a log jam had formed above it. “We took out the lumber and had to rebuild the berm, and we put in a big cornerstone to make it hold,” Brennan said. He added that work there also produced better fishing spots downstream, as well.

Across the river and slightly upstream from Clock Tower, the K-Hole also was repaired where a rock had fallen in, he said.

Amazingly enough, Brennan said Smelter, which had undergone repairs in 2003, had escaped the floods unscathed and did not require any work. “Smelter had held perfectly,” he said.

However, the river right wall downstream from the run’s biggest drop was hammered in the flows, with large areas of shoreline literally washed away.4 Unfortunately, Brennan said little could be done to repair the damage. “We couldn’t do a lot of work, but we did try to do some rip rap to shore it up.”

In addition to fixing play spots and shoreline, Brennan said work was done to remove potential hazards. He also said work was done to fix dangerous pin and entrapment potential, particularly on river right near Hamburger Hole, the site of many a swim. “I took a snorkel and dove down last summer to see what was going on and found a huge rock had shifted creating a space that someone could swim into, but not out of on the downriver side,” he said.

Aside from resurrecting play features, Brennan said the recent work should also give them a more productive life. “Things should start working at a much lower flow than in the past,” he said. “We’re talking 800 cfs rather than 5,000 cfs for stuff to start getting good.”

Brennan said the work was the sixth time since 1988 that maintenance had been done on the whitewater park. The recent repairs were not in conjunction with the city’s contested bid for a recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD, which would require permanent structures involving concrete, Brennan said. The city is headed to state water court in May to hear the final decision on its water rights bid. •



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