COLUMBUS — A proposed water park for rafting and swimming is still in its beginning stages and could be years away from becoming a reality.
The first few steps, though, have been taken place to get the so-called Columbus Whitewater Park established.
Colorado engineering firm RiverRestoration has completed a site visit to Tailrace Park, where the whitewater park would be built. Hattie Johnson, landscape designer with the firm, toured the local park Thursday along with Brandy Zywiec, the Monroe woman who is behind the whitewater park idea.
The site visit is part of a feasibility study the firm was hired to complete for the project, which could include rafting, swimming, canoeing, tubing and fishing. Another part of the study involved gathering community input through a Thursday evening public meeting held at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.
Johnson presented to a group of about 20 people the possibility of the park and the next steps that will need to be taken to make it happen.
Tailrace Park is located southeast of Columbus at the confluence of the Loup Public Power District canal system and Platte River. The park has become rundown over the years and hit by vandalism. It is gated off, but still a public park that can be utilized by foot traffic.
Zywiec said one reason the tailrace was chosen for the project is because of the positive impact a whitewater park could have on the area.
“We just want to clean up a park that already exists and use it again,” she said.
Loup Power, which would still own Tailrace Park if a whitewater park is built there, has already given its support to the project.
Johnson said RiverRestoration has worked on about 75 whitewater park projects across the country.
“They’re something that a lot of cities and towns with a river running through them have been utilizing just for another piece of outdoor recreation, economic development and things like that,” she said.
Parks the firm designs focus on the environment, including fish habitat, and creating a safe area where people can access and use the water. The tailrace can be a dangerous area, especially near the low-head dam that recirculates water. That dam would have to be modified for the water park.
Although nothing is set in stone, the park would probably start at the dam and move downstream, Johnson said. There wouldn’t be any work done upstream and the amount of water in the canal won't be affected. Such a park would be used at one’s own risk. It would also require some maintenance.
Whitewater parks the Colorado firm has worked on have mostly been funded through public and private grants and donations. A low-end price tag for a park is about $500,000 and the economic impact on communities that have whitewater parks is millions of dollars annually, Johnson said.
Some attending the meeting were concerned the whitewater park would lead to more vandalism in the area because it would attract more people.
But Zywiec said improving Tailrace Park would do just the opposite.
“We are trying to open it up and bring positive people in for positive reasons,” she said.
Creating water parks like the one proposed for Columbus can take years. The next step is taking the information gathered during the site visit and determining what is actually feasible in the area before a concept design plan can be created and submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permits needed to move forward.
“The place that we are at today doesn’t mean we are going out and building it next year by any means. This is kind of the very beginning of the process. This is the first time we have been out here to determine what is feasible at this site and what we can create here,” Johnson said.