Although it lies at the mouth of the Royal Gorge, one of the state’s most spectacular stretches of whitewater, Cañon City has never achieved the river-town vibe that permeates its upstream neighbors in Salida and Buena Vista.
A new whitewater park adjacent to downtown may change that.
The park, which was officially opened earlier this month, was humorously dubbed “WKRP in Cañon City” (if you’re too young to get the joke, google it) — the acronym stands for Whitewater Kayak and Recreation Park.
“I’ve always thought that we needed a whitewater park,” said Will Colon, co-owner of Raft Masters in Cañon City. “We’ve always let the river run through the city and never really used it.”
About three years ago, Colon decided to do something about it. He raised money and brought in experts, pitched the idea to city leaders and pretty soon, WKRP was under way. With a $200,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado and $200,000 more in local cash and in-kind contributions, an excavator began laying rock in the riverbed in January between Depot and Centennial parks, around the Fourth Street viaduct.
The core of the park is a pair of man-made waves, dubbed Flytrap and Nessman, where giant concrete blocks were placed in the river and form frothing piles of foam as the Arkansas crashes over them. Kayakers and rafters, and potentially the occasional surfer or boogie boarder, can play in the waves, surfing and cartwheeling and spinning. For rafters and kayakers finishing a Royal Gorge trip, the waves will be a final hit before taking out.
There’s more to the park than just the waves: Sandstone bleachers overlook the features, there’s a wading pool for small children and yet more rock stabilizes and beautifies the riverbanks.
“You go down there now and there’s so much more life and activity,” said Beth Katchmar, a local business owner who helped raise money for the project.
Although cool weather has delayed the high water season on the Arkansas this year, the park has already been a hit with locals and word is getting out, said Joe Ashton, a Cañon City kayaker.
“I’ve been out there 12 times,” he said. “I’ve met more people in Cañon here lately than ever, and that’s before there’s any water. I think it’s going to be used.”
As the water flow rises in coming weeks, whitewater fans will have a better idea of what the shiny new park can really do.
“I think this is one of those waves where the more water you put into it, the better it gets,” Colon said.
At the opening ceremony, a kayaker paddled a ribbon across the river, then a raft came downstream and crashed through the tape. June 25 and 26, the park will host the Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival — a week after the Fibark festival in Salida, the state’s largest.
Colon hopes to add more waves to the park and extend the bank improvements upstream. He also hopes the park won’t be just a summertime attraction.
“Ideally, we want a wave that will work in the wintertime,” Colon said. “We’re in the banana belt, we have good weather in the winter.”
WKRP in Cañon City
-- Cañon City’s new whitewater park, dubbed “WKRP in Cañon City,” features two waves: the Nessman wave, east of the Fourth Street viaduct and next to the train depot, and the Flytrap wave, west of the viaduct and next to Centennial Park.
-- The whitewater park will host the Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival June 25-26, with a kayak rodeo, raft races and other events.