Whitewater Park a short drive from Berthoud offers recreation, environmental amenities
By Shelley Widhalm
The Cache la Poudre River used to be a nearly invisible part of downtown Fort Collins, but a park, a bridge and a plaza have turned it into a key recreation and entertainment outlet for the area’s visitors.
Poudre River Whitewater Park is a river park just north of Old Town that kayakers, tubers, anglers, river watchers and others can enjoy year-round as they visit downtown or access the nine-mile Poudre River Trail. The park provides safe access to the river, while also helping improve the river floodplain and bringing the river back to a more natural state.
“What’s exciting about it is it’s not just for river enthusiasts, it’s for everyone,” said Kurt Friesen, director of Park Planning and Development for the City of Fort Collins. “It’s a gathering place. It’s a destination. … The Whitewater Park makes the river more central to that downtown experience, so that’s exciting as well.”
The 11-acre park, which opened in October 2019 at 202 E. Vine Drive, remains accessible during the COVID-19 crisis, since it doesn’t have a playground or a large shelter area where people can congregate.
“There is social distancing signage in the park,” Friesen said. “We’re encouraging people to pay attention to that and be wary of that as the peak season is here over the next few weeks.”
The park provides three key benefits, that of recreation, environmental and ecological restoration, and flooding reduction. The recreational features include two whitewater drop structures that are accessible for kayaking and tubing, a wave shelter, which is an art piece serving as a shelter, and lounge and bar seating in an overlook plaza. There also is a children’s play area for children to safely access the water during low flow season and a pedestrian bridge that connects the park to the Poudre Trail.
“There’s a wonderful pedestrian bridge that crosses the river to be able to watch people enjoying the river,” Friesen said.
To build the park, the city lowered the river by five feet and removed the adjacent property out of the floodway, which helped reduce the potential for flooding along College Avenue. The city also improved the fish habitat by taking out a diversion structure in the river and installing ecological features that allow the fish to move up and down the water.
“That isn’t something they were able to do before,” Friesen said.
The whitewater drop structures have fish passage channels consisting of strategically placed boulders to create a safe environment for the fish to navigate through the structures, Friesen said.
On the north side of the park, there is natural historic landscaping that the city restored by planting hundreds of small willow trees and other native species along the river water.
“There will be a lot of wonderful vegetation there. It’s just going to take a few years,” Friesen said.
The park took more than a year to construct and more than five years to plan. It is part of a multi-phase project outlined in the Poudre River Downtown Master Plan, which aims to improve sections of the river running through the city.
“The first phase was the whitewater park. Hopefully, there will be other phases that will develop,” Friesen said. “It really sets the stage for future projects.”
The park cost $11.5 million to build and was funded through city funds, voter-approved capital funds, grants and donations, including a $1 million donation from Jack and Ginger Graham.
“It’s going to be treasured place in our city for many, many years,” Friesen said. “It’s just a wonderful place to enjoy the river.”
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