Cities Developing Natural Water Parks from Streams

Cities around the country are building a new kind of park. Whitewater parks are just a natural stream with rocks strategically placed to create eddies and fast-moving currents for thrill-seeking canoeists and kayakers.

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Cities across the country are building a new kind of park: white-water parks, usually on a river or a large creek. Put aside your notion of a water park with blue slides and lots of chlorine. White-water parks are just a natural stream with rocks strategically placed to create eddies and fast-moving currents for thrill-seeking canoeists and kayakers. NPR's Jeff Brady visited the Clear Creek Whitewater Park near Denver.

JEFF BRADY reporting:

I'm standing on a rock in Clear Creek in the city of Golden, Colorado, and I do mean in the city. I can just about see City Hall from here. I can see just a little corner of the Coors brewery down the creek from here. There is a lot of water in the creek right now. There's a big snowmelt coming down from the mountains, and that makes it a lot of fun for the folks who are here in their kayaks and their canoes.

(Soundbite of water flowing)

Mr. JEFF OXENFORD (Parks and Recreation Advisory Board): Go faster! Whoo-hoo!

BRADY: That's Jeff Oxenford. He's an avid canoeist and a member of the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

Mr. OXENFORD: Basically I'm sitting here in an eddy right now, and what I'm going to do is I'm going to do a little ferry across the river. So...

BRADY: Oxenford moves his canoe around two whirlpools in a figure eight using the current to help turn his canoe.

Mr. OXENFORD: The real joy is getting your boat to carve and turn exactly where you want it at the time that you want it to turn, and having a facility like this, I can practice this move over and over again so it becomes second nature.

BRADY: Before this white-water park was built six years ago, Oxenford traveled up into the mountains to find suitable streams, but now he can be down here shortly after getting off work.

You ever just sneak away in the middle of the day and go?

Mr. OXENFORD: Not going to say on the radio. No, actually, my office is 20 minutes away from here, so unfortunately, I can't, but I have a friend who just took a job here in Golden, and he's so excited because he can come paddle on his lunch break, and I know people that do paddle on their lunch breaks.

BRADY: It looks like anybody could come in here and just put their kayak or canoe in and start doing it. What do you do to make sure that you don't get people who could injure themselves doing it?

Mr. OXENFORD: This is an adventure sport. People have to take personal risk, personal liability. The best thing that we have is we have peer pressure and good examples.

BRADY: Oxenford says canoeists and kayakers are pretty good at policing themselves. Still, liability is a concern. Technically, the state of Colorado owns this creek, but that doesn't mean it's responsible if someone gets hurt. Robert Kauffman is a professor of recreation and park management at Frostburg State University in Maryland. He says white-water parks are so new that a lot of the liability issues haven't been worked out yet in court.

Professor ROBERT KAUFFMAN (Frostburg State University): Ultimately, the question is, is who's going to be responsible in case somebody gets injured?

BRADY: Kauffman says in coming years, judges will decide whether it's individual boaters or the cities that own white-water parks.

(Soundbite of water flowing)

BRADY: There are already about two dozen white-water parks around the country, with 10 or so more under construction. Most of them are free. The Clear Creek Whitewater Park doesn't even charge for parking. Most cities figure the parks help their economies because boaters often spend money in town. The park in Golden has become quite popular. The city says just about the only time you won't find anyone here is when the creek is frozen over.

(Soundbite of water flowing)

BRADY: Jeff Brady, NPR News, Golden, Colorado.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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