Next week crews will begin making improvements to the Roaring Fork Whitewater Park in Basalt, including tweaks to the waves, installing a boardwalk and upgrades to the Fisherman’s Park boat ramp.

The river from the boat ramp to below the play waves will be closed while crews do what Pitkin County Healthy Rivers is calling a bit of routine instream maintenance.

The project is the next stage of the county’s multimillion-dollar effort to maximize the river experience tied to its recreational in-channel diversion water right. A RICD water right is one of the few tools under Colorado water law designed to keep water in rivers and it means tying a water right to a man-made structure like the waves of a whitewater park. Pitkin County’s RICD, which dates to 2010, is supposed to create fun play waves at flows between 240 and 1,350 cfs.

The project was engineered by Carbondale’s River Restoration and will be constructed by Diggin It Riverworks of Basalt. The plan is to lower the left side of the concrete blocks that form the upstream wave, making it more of a “green wave” that’s good for surfing and less of a hole.

“It’s a little bit crooked so we are squaring that up,” said Brian Barackman of Diggin It Riverworks. “We should be able to totally fix that wave.”

Diggin It Riverworks will also remove the sediment that has collected on the river left side as a result of the misalignment, as well as adjust the rocks that are immediately downstream of the wave blocks. The goal is to lower the downstream pool and create a trough.

This is the county’s third attempt at fixing the play waves, which were constructed during the winter of 2016-17. They were re-engineered two more times after the waves created boat-flipping holes that river runners said were dangerous at high water.

It’s not uncommon for man-made river structures to need fixing, especially after they are tested during spring runoff. The city of Durango, for example, has had similar issues with the features in its whitewater park.

But Barackman said the work this time around is minor compared to the restructuring of the last two times.

“It is minor what we are doing but the steps we are going to take will help the performance of these waves,” he said. “We are just trying to pull the whitewater back a little bit to create that flat area so kayaks have room to play and it isn’t such a steep wave going down in the whitewater.”

This map shows where enhancements will take place at the Roaring Fork Whitewater Park starting Aug. 15. Credit: Courtesy Pitkin County Healthy Rivers

Boardwalk and boat ramp

The upcoming project will also include improvements to the boat ramp at Fisherman’s Park, which is currently a dirt slope. It will get resurfaced with concrete and will be closed while the work is going on. The work will require removal of a few trees and there will be midday impacts to traffic on Two Rivers Road when the concrete is poured.

The other big enhancement to the area will be a 250-yard-long boardwalk that connects the Fisherman’s Park boat ramp to the whitewater park along the river right bank. Pitkin County officials hope the boardwalk will allow kayakers to more easily lap the park and scout the waves at high water, create a place for school groups to learn about the riparian ecosystem and provide a more pleasant streamside experience because users will be separated from the traffic on Two Rivers Road.

“We just want people to use the park and enjoy it and enjoy the river,” said Lisa MacDonald, paralegal with the county attorney’s office and Healthy Rivers.

The instream work will take place between Aug. 15 and Sept. 30, which is according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife guidelines to minimize impacts to aquatic life. Officials say they will install signage that lets boaters know they cannot float through the area during this time. The boardwalk construction and work at Fisherman’s Park is scheduled to be completed by Oct. 31.

The project is estimated to cost $658,000 and the boardwalk portion will be partially funded by a $350,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant. Pitkin County Healthy Rivers will fund the rest. The initial budget for the whitewater park was $770,000.

County officials hope another future phase of upgrades to streamside amenities at the whitewater park will include a bathroom, changing room, wave-side seating, and improved parking and emergency access. They put the project out to bid in June, but did not receive any bids.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the Aug. 12 edition of The Aspen Times.

Heather Sackett is the managing editor at Aspen Journalism and the editor and reporter on the Water Desk. She has also reported for The Denver Post and the Telluride Daily Planet. Heather has a master’s...