BUENA VISTA, Colo. (CBS4) – As the snow begins to melt high in the Colorado mountains, rafters and kayakers are gearing up.

Whitewater parks are growing in popularity around the state and kayakers around the world are discovering one of the newer parks — the Buena Vista Whitewater Park on the Arkansas River.

“A big part of why I’m here is because this whitewater park is so good,” kayaker Dustin Urban said.

Urban is a world champion boater. As a professional, he’s been kayaking all over the world. Today he calls the Buena Vista Whitewater Park home.

“It’s just getting better every year,” he said.

For years the stretch of the Arkansas River known as the Buena Vista River Park has been a popular corridor for anglers and commercial rafting companies.

“This section of river used to be pretty hazardous, it had a lot of big rocks where boaters and fishermen and rafters could get stuck on,” said Earl Richmond, a promoter for the whitewater park.

In recent years, hazards have been removed, channels developed, and features added, creating a world class whitewater park, and the park has already grown.

“We now have about another quarter mile of river features that include bank-side improvements and public access improvements, and also about three more kayaking features for all the paddlers to enjoy,” Richmond said.

Local boaters in the Upper Arkansas River Valley believe that the Buena Vista Whitewater Park, at more than 1 1/2 mile in length, is the longest park of its kind in the state.

“So this is really a dream come true that I can grab my boat and come down here on a lunch break or after work,” Andre Spino-Smith said. “What’s so amazing about this for me is I live and work about a half block away in the South Main neighborhood.”

The South Main neighborhood is one of the newest developments in the historic town of Buena Vista. New homes, new businesses, and a new restaurant are all just a stone’s throw to the Arkansas River and the whitewater park below.

“This river, stretch of river up here, is much higher gradient. It’s moving faster and so that presents opportunities and challenges,” said whitewater park designer Mike Harvey said.

Many of the whitewater parks around the world that Harvey has helped design have been in urban settings. This was a bit different.

“Here we really started with a relatively natural stretch of river and one of our design goals was to preserve that character,” Harvey said.

Additional Resources

Help kick off the paddling season next weekend at Paddlefest 2010 at the Buena Vista Whitewater Park. There will be four days of clinics, competitions, music and more. Log on to ckspaddlefest.com for details.

Get to Buena Vista by taking U.S. Highway 285 to Johnson Village and head north a couple of miles on Highway 24 to Buena Vista. Then go east on Main Street all the way to the river.

The headquarters of Paddlefest is the Colorado Kayak Supply on East Main. Contact them toll free at (888) 265-2925 or log on to coloradokayak.com.


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