Whitewater in Kentucky
By Jim Gaines, The Daily News

Price range for project some say would boost tourism expected to be up to $2 million.

A whitewater park built on Bowling Green’s riverfront would probably stretch for about 1,200 feet, from the Bowling Green Municipal Utilities water intake to the Louisville Road bridge, according to tentative drawings presented Thursday night.

The Greenways Commission hosted a public meeting to review the idea, which was prepared by Gary Lacy, owner and chief engineer of Boulder Colorado-based Recreation Engineering & Planning under contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

About 60 people showed up and were generally approving of the concept, which includes four to six drops along the river, stepping down a total fall of about 10 feet. “It doesn’t take a whole lot of drop to create a pretty big wave,” Lacy said. Any final design will depend heavily on community input, but the basic concept should be easy and safe enough for relative novices in kayaks, rafts, and canoes, but allow enough variety for experienced boaters to do stunts, he said.

Greenways Coordinator Helen Siewers asked for volunteers from the crowd to serve on a citizen’s committee that will develop and lobby for the plan. She got nine volunteers. Siewers also asked for e-mailed comments and suggestions from the general public, sent to helen.siewers@bgky.org. The idea was suggested as part of an overall development of Bowling Green’s riverfront. One park has been developed on the downtown side of the river, and within the next couple of years, plans call for a variety of recreation facilities to be built on the opposite bank, using a $4.5 million federal appropriation,

This goes hand in hand with the city’s efforts to redevelop downtown; plans call for a row of pedestrian-friendly businesses along several blocks of U.S. 31W By-Pass by the river. A feature for boaters should be “more than a whitewater park”, drawing not only kayakers but spectators to the riverfront, Lacy said.

Whitewater parks provide recreation close to home that local residents would normally have to drive hours to reach. Lacy said perhaps 20 have been built for towns in Colorado, he said. “I kind of think of it like skateboard parks,” Lacy said, “A few years ago, nobody knew what a skateboard park was, and then everybody had to have one.” They’ve been successfully built on much smaller rivers than the Barren, he said. Lacy described whitewater features as actually being safer than unmodified riverfront, since they would incorporate so many calm pools and access points to allow people in the river to get out.

Whitewater parks in other cities pumped $1 million to $2 million a year into local economies, he said. There are no solid estimates yet for how much such a development would cost in Bowling Green, but Lacy mentioned expenses from several hundred thousand up to $2 million, with the latter figure being more likely.

In May, at the end of the current Corps-sponsored study, there should be definite estimates of the likely price tag, said John Zimmerman, chief of Plan Formulation for the Corps’ Louisville district office. “The estimate should be all-inclusive,” he said. Normally, the Corps would not participate in purely recreational projects past this point, Zimmerman said. But in other cases, when directed to do so by congressional representatives, the Corps has participated and funded design and construction “on a 50-50 level,” he said.

Any construction of whitewater features should be done in conjunction with BGMU’s planned work on the existing river dam, Lacy said – not necessarily at the same time, but with utility dam work configured to allow for later waterpark needs. Mike Gardner, Water-Sewer Systems manager for BGMU said work on the dam will be done next summer when ongoing work on the utility’s water intake is finished.

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