By PHIL BROWN
AdkAction and two paddling enthusiasts have banded together to push for the creation of a whitewater park in the village of Saranac Lake.
Their goal is to create a “hydraulic jump” in the Saranac River that could be used by kayakers, canoeists, and rafting tubes. The whitewater feature would be located a little downstream from the Lake Flower dam, enhancing existing rapids.
The advocacy group AdkAction and two local paddlers, Tyler Merriam and Scott McKim, have asked the state for $404,000 in Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds. If the grant is awarded and permits are obtained, work could begin next spring and be completed next fall.
Merriam said the initial idea was to anchor boulders to the riverbed, funneling water to create a whitewater drop. The design may change. “Ultimately the plan will include whatever is most healthy for the river,” he said.
The sponsors have hired S2O Design of Colorado, an engineering firm whose slogan is “Reinventing Whitewater.” In addition to creating a drop in the river, the plan calls for improvements to the riverbank and adjacent municipal parks.
The Village Board unanimously backs the idea. The sponsors also have collected more than 100 letters of support from individuals and businesses.
In an email to the Explorer, Mayor Clyde Rabideau called the whitewater park “the highest and best use of the site,” adding that it would promote tourism. Brian McDonnell, a canoe outfitter in Lake Clear, said in a letter last year that the park would “cement Saranac Lake’s name as a ‘paddling capital of the Adirondacks.’”
The project would require several permits—from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Adirondack Park Agency, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among others.
So far, environmental groups have raised no objections to the plan. “This sounds like a great project,” said Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council. “Outdoor recreation in the Adirondacks is good for people, communities and the economy when done consistent with protecting the water, wildlife and environment.”
One local resident, Dave Campbell, criticized the project in a letter to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, arguing that it would lead to conflicts between paddlers and anglers. “Rebuild a river so people can play in their kayaks? First of all, rebuilding a river so it suits the needs of a single recreational group is a pretty disgusting and arrogant idea,” he wrote in May after the newspaper published an article on the proposal.
Merriam said the park—which would consist of a single drop—would be designed to enhance fish habitat. “I anticipate that both paddlers and anglers would be able to respectfully share the river,” he told the Explorer.
The river could be used for whitewater competitions and instruction, he said. In high water, the drop would test the whitewater skills of expert paddlers. At other times, novice and intermediate paddlers could practice in the river. He stressed that the proposal does not call for water releases from the Lake Flower dam.
In 2005, the DEC approved a stream-disturbance permit for whitewater features in the Sacandaga River in the southern Adirondacks. A report by S2O estimates that whitewater recreation on the Sacandaga contributes $2.3 million to $3.7 million to the local economy. The report says a whitewater park in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, contributes $7.2 million in economic benefits.