A Free Whitewater Pass

Jose Nunez enjoys the raging rapids at the Whitewater Park after a sizable amount of water was released at the Pueblo dam earlier in the day.

The Arkansas River is at the root of the reason for settlement by early western pioneers in Pueblo, and today serves our wonderful community with more than just a lifeline in an arid climate. Thanks to the decade-long devotion to a life’s passion by local Pueblo businessman Bob Walker, and following an extensive study of the Arkansas River from the Pueblo Dam through the city, the section created by the levee system was considered ideal for a whitewater park.

On May 8, 2005, the Pueblo Whitewater Park, designed by Gary Lacy, was officially opened to the public with a formal ceremony. Fronted by the Pueblo Paddlers, the community effort – which cleaned up the levee section of the river – helped with deliberate placement of huge boulders that caused the water flow to be shaped in a manner that river kayakers and surfers could relish. The Pueblo Whitewater Park, located between the 4th Street bridge and the Union Avenue bridge, features eight drops.

The park is approximately a half-mile in length and has drops suitable for kayaks, boogie boards, body surfing, surfing and tubing. Also, along pool three there is a section where casual summertime swimming has become common. Depending on the flows released from the Pueblo Dam, the drops range from very tame (early spring and late fall) to astonishing wave action (late June early July). Each drop has a sizeable eddy (back-swirling pool) beneath it. In milder conditions the course can be considered a great place for beginners to hone their whitewater skills and also a good place to go within the state of Colorado for some straights of warmer water.

Park instructions include a posted warning expressing that whitewater boating is a hazardous activity, and that all boaters choosing to use the engaging section of water do so at their own risk. By Colorado law – and truly the only enforced rule of the park – boaters (that means anyone in the water) are required to wear life jackets. However, it is advised that before paddling out individuals should make use of cold-water clothing and wear helmets due to underwater boulders. Glass containers are not permitted within the half- mile stretch and it is asked of the public to dispose of trash properly.

While speaking with avid whitewater park participants and sisters Terra and Tori Spinuzzi on a hot June day, I learned that though the rapids may seem to be intimidating if you’ve never tried extreme water sports before, “The rush of moving in a controlled manner over the rapids can become addicting.” Terra explained how she introduced her little sister to the course and immediately they had another outdoor activity that they shared an interest in. “Tori has always liked swimming and being in the water, so after a few times of going myself with friends to the course I got her out there on a boogie board.” Tori exclaimed that, “At first I thought it was scary! But, once I got the hang of it I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day. It’s so hot!”

Just as with any other athletics, there is a learning curve with whitewater sports at the Pueblo Whitewater Park. Read and abide by the posted rules and advisories. If you or your children are looking for lessons in kayaking or any other of the whitewater sports, try visiting The Edge Ski, Paddle and Pack at 107 North Union Avenue or by contacting Pueblo’s own Sierra Club (see box).

By Charles Madrid

Water Fun on the Arkansas
When: Saturday, July 21, Noon
Where: Pueblo Kayak Course, Just below the 4th St. Bridge

Cost: Free for all
Learn how to surf the waves, boogie board or just splash around in the cool water. Bring a life jacket, water shoes and a boogie board if you have one. There will be extra boards and life jackets. Bring water, sunscreen.
RSVP: John Oribello, 719-696-5961, john.oribello@rmc.sierraclub.org

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