Fort Collins Set to Open City Whitewater Park

Coursing through the heart of downtown Fort Collins, Colo., the Poudre River is now home to the country’s newest whitewater park. Driven by riverpark engineering firm S20 Design and Engineering, the new whitewater park features a series of waves for rafters, kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders, a wading area for families, a pedestrian bridge and extensive bank reconfiguration.

According S2O, the project, located near Old Town at Vine Drive and College Avenue, brings the river back to a more natural state, provides the community a greater connection to the river and invites economic development to the area. The park will officially open in September 2019. 

“The Poudre has always been a classic Colorado destination for river running, and now its recreational amenities will be more accessible than ever,” said S2O Design founder Scott Shipley. “Not only is it a beautiful site for a river park, it’s also a perfect example of various entities coming together to create a great focal point for the town.”

Funding the $12 million project was achieved through both public and private partners. The city’s Building on Basics tax initiative, a program introduced in 2015 for community improvements, contributed $7 million; the city’s Storm Water, Natural Areas, and Parks and Rec departments contributed $3 million; and private donations totaled more than $2 million, including a $1 million gift from longtime Fort Collins residents Jack and Ginger Graham.

Lyons, Colo.-based S2O Design provided design, planning, permitting and construction services to the project. S2O Design was charged with converting the dangerous Coy Diversion Dam, which was a barrier to fish passage, into a usable park area that also encourages fish migration. The river features needed to provide low- and high-water functionality to a wide variety of users, with extensive bank restoration and reconfiguration to bolster animal habitat and improve stormwater management. S2O Design has completed several other river recreation and restoration projects in Colorado, including the Eagle River Park, Durango Whitewater Park, Canon City Whitewater Park, and Bohn Park in Lyons, Colo.

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“The Poudre holds a very special place in our city’s history,” said Jack Graham, former U.S. Senate candidate and Colorado State University athletic director who spearheaded the school’s new on-campus stadium. “It has been in need of some TLC for decades and the park’s environmental repairs and restoration, coupled with its recreational features, will bring needed energy and economic development to the River District and downtown.”

Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell added, “The river, and its new park, is a true treasure for our community and a legacy for our future. It will build community, strengthen our downtown, and contribute to our vibrancy and prosperity.”

The project was formally approved by voters in 2015 as part of the city’s Community Capital Improvement Program but was in the works for nearly 20 years prior. “We first started talking about it way back in 1986, so it’s great to finally see it come to fruition,” says Tim O’Hara, a commercial photographer who served as the lead fundraiser for the project. ff