City seeks funding to study kayak park

Ryan Ward works the current in the Saranac River while instructor Steve Maynard looks on. Both are supporters of a local kayak park.

Ryan Ward works the current in the Saranac River while instructor Steve Maynard looks on. Both are supporters of a local kayak park. Photo by Shaun Kittle.

PLATTSBURGH – Plattsburgh wants paddlers.

More paddlers means more people, many of whom may not be paddlers, but spectators perhaps, grabbing a bite downtown before or after watching a kayaker negotiate obstacles in the Saranac River.

The force behind this new flow of people and cash would be a whitewater park, which inspired city officials to apply for an $11,000 grant to study the feasibility of creating such a park on the Saranac River in downtown Plattsburgh.

“I support this idea fully,” said Michelle Powers, vice president of marketing for the North Country Chamber of Commerce. “The idea is to just explore it and see if it is feasible.”

The whitewater park would be for kayakers, canoeists and paddlers and would be created by transforming a portion of the river that runs through the city into a recreation park. For example, sections of the river could be manipulated for the benefit of paddlers, possibly by inserting boulders to create water swirls.

Recreation Engineering and Planning of Boulder, Colo. would conduct the study. The company is responsible for the majority of such studies around the country today and would determine what times of year a park might work, among other things.

“They have these parks in Boulder, Colo.,” Powers said. “There are a lot of them out west.”

There are also water parks in Potsdam, Watertown and on the Richelieu River in Quebec. Whitewater parks, which often cater to kayakers, have been popping up in U.S. cities for 20 years.

The problem with the Saranac River is its water level is often too low in mid-July and August, but pinching the river in places could facilitate a consistent flow.

This summer the weather has caused the water level to drop and made the river unsuitable for whitewater paddling.

Supporters of the idea over the years have largely focused on the needs of kayakers, but the whitewater park would be created with all paddlers in mind.

“We have a wonderful opportunity with this grant,” Powers said.

Outdoors instructors use the river already to teach their students and have long thought the city could use it to promote recreation and tourism.

“The economic impact would be amazing,” Powers said. “It would really create a buzz.”

Anything that pulls people to the downtown area is worth pursuing, she said. It would also set Plattsburgh apart from other destinations.

She said the city should know by late August whether it is awarded the grant funds.

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