KETCHUM• Jeff Smull can wax eloquently about Sun Valley’s skiing, mountain biking, hiking, fly-fishing and golf. But there’s one thing missing, he says: A whitewater park.
That’s about to change.
The Ketchum City Council has approved a master plan for a $2.7 million park that would run along 1,500 feet of the Big Wood River near Hulen Meadows just north of Ketchum.
“It’ll be just a tremendous amenity for a mountain town like Ketchum,” said Smull. “Having something like this is in keeping with the Sun Valley thing and the Idaho thing since Idaho is the whitewater state of the U.S.”
“There are certainly enough characters around who’d use it,” added Scooter Carling, a Ketchum river guide.
Strategically placed drop features would create a variety of play waves on the river that kayakers can surf and perform flips at various water levels.
There also would be nature trails, wildlife viewing areas, dog play areas and fishing sites.
The city hired S2o Design and Engineering, a Lyons, Colo.-based whitewater park design firm to build the park. S2o designed the 2012 London Olympics whitewater course, which was voted the best venue of the Olympics.
Three-time Olympic kayaker Scott Shipley said he would expect the park to attract up to 50 kayakers a day during spring and early summer. Otherwise, the park will likely see the same amount and kinds of uses the area pond gets today.
Jen Smith, director of parks and recreation for Ketchum, said she hopes that the park will attract out-of-towners who might be persuaded to stop a couple days and practice their kayaking skills before heading on to the Middle Fork and Main Salmon rivers in early summer when tourism revenue for local businesses is at a seasonal low.
“I suspect the majority of users will be local and regional,” she added.
This particular stretch of river was deemed the best site for a park because it’s surrounded by public property.
“This will give people an area they can take kids and have a safe experience. The Big Wood is called the Big Wood because it has a lot of logs and debris in it and that makes it pretty unsafe for those who want to boat or ride it in innertubes,” Smith said.
Smith said she hopes construction can begin in 2014 with the park opening in the spring of 2015.
First there must be a $101,240 environmental assessment, paid for by the Wood River Land Trust, the White Water Park Committee and the city.
The city also has applied for a patent from the BLM to create a park on the BLM land. The Recreational and Public Purposes Act permits public lands owned by BLM to be transferred to local governments for recreational purposes. The city already has been providing seasonal maintenance for the area since the BLM’s Shoshone office doesn’t have the resources to take care of it on a daily basis.
The park will have a more natural look than the new whitewater park in Boise or the Cascade park that hosted the USA Freestyle Kayaking National Championships last July.
Whitewater features will be built on nine natural structures that already exist. Eddies — areas of slow water — will be incorporated into the design as safe areas in case kayakers come out of their boats.
“It’ll be great for the kids growing up, for adaptive sports, wounded warriors — anytime you can get to the water, it’s a healing process,” said Smull. “And like the halfpipe in the ski business, it’ll attract people to watch kayakers do tricks. People take picnics to the whitewater park in Reno and never get their feet in the water but they have a ball watching the kayakers play in the hydraulics.”