Paddlers in for some rough water

by Jeff O’Farrell
Yukon News correspondent
(story originally published January 14, 1998)

The Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club is in for some rough water.
It likes it that way.

The squadron of paddlers is lobbying to rough up the
Yukon River just below Whitehorseís old water intake.
Its goal is to strategically dump boulders in the
river, creating a white-water recreation park.

Itís odd to be thinking about splash-and-dodge kayaking
in the middle of the winterís worst deep freeze, admit
club executives Theresa Landman and Vernon Beebe.
But itís necessary because the scheme requires
extensive planning and, hence, an early start.
When finished, the submerged boulders would transform
the wide, placid river into a seeming mess of waves and
hydraulics ideal for thrill-seeking canoeists and
kayakers, said Landman, its vice-president.

The chosen site is about 100 metres below the old city
water intake in Riverdale.
Also, itís well upstream of fish channels the city
devised as part of the rebuild of Robert Service Way,
she added.

In fact, its current momentum stems from the clubís
first proposal, launched last spring. It hoped to
develop the park in conjunction with the cityís
multi-million dollar construction project, said Beebe.
That goal proved to be unattainable, so it set its
sights on Ď98.

But the idea is not a new one. It was hatched many
years ago, said Beebe.
White-water recreation parks are extremely popular in
North America and Europe, said Landman, who just
happens to be the first woman to successfully negotiate
the Alsek Riverís turbulent Turnback Canyon.

In Europe, paddling events are immensely popular
spectator sports, she said. Theyíre huge in places
like Ausburg, Barcelona and Tennessee.
In fact the city of South Bend, Indiana, has a
promotional video specifically dedicated to their
white-water park, which was developed in an effort to
attract tourists.

And then she dangles the economic carrot.
Communities neighboring white-water parks have
experienced direct and indirect spin-offs, she said.
Hotel bookings are up, as are sales at grocery stores
and gas stations.

Itís not planning a monster on the same scale as one in
Tennessee, said Beebe, quickly.
There, more than $4 million (U.S.) was, literally, sunk
into the Occoee River. The site was used for the last
summer Olympics.

The local clubís plans mirror the park on Ontarioís
Gull River or Albertaís Kananaskis, said Landman.
At those parks, most of the work was done by
volunteers. Grants and fund-raising covered the
engineering and development work.
The club hasnít yet pinned a price tag on the project.
But it knows a wilder river would lead to better local
paddlers.

We are limited by such a short paddling season, and
those of us with families canít spend the whole summer
travelling back and forth to the Tatshenshini said
Beebe.

A few local water rats have been successful at Outside
competitions.
But building a better river would raise the level of
competition, said the pair.
Jody Schick is the most successful Yukon paddler, said
Landman.
He placed second in Californiaís American River White
Water Rodeo and attended the world championships in
Ottawa.
But heís not the only one.

Bob and Kevin Daffe placed in competitions in
Fairbanks, Alaska. And Landman has placed in
competitions on the Kananaskis River and in Fairbanks.
But a frothy, rock-littered river wouldnít just benefit
advanced kayakers, added Beebe.
There are many of us who participate in the annual
YCKC rodeo and are awarded points just for staying
right side up or rolling back up when we tip, he said,
laughing.
Thatís the group who could conceivably benefit the
most.

The tourism and teaching benefits are undeniable, said
Landman.
To date weíve received official letters of support
from the Wilderness Tourism Industry, the Tourism
Industry Association of the Yukon, the industry
services branch at YTG and the Outdoor Education
Teacherís Association.

Local business is also lining up behind the plan. For
example, Blacksheep Aviation has donated a flight
anywhere in the Yukon to help it raise money.
The park would also benefit the YCKC youth-at-risk
kayaking program which provides youth who would
otherwise not have the opportunity to try the sport
free of charge, said Beebe.
          
A white-water recreation park would provide moderately
challenging rapids enabling youth to challenge
themselves without having to do so in a more remote
setting, like the Takhini River, where road access is
not always available he said.
Hence, it would be safer for paddlers.

Their enthusiasm is contagious. But first they must
clear obstacles bigger than the rocks they plan to dump
in the river.
Fisheries and Oceans can refuse the necessary permits,
and getting its permission will be tough.
          
Still, in an effort to placate those officials, it has
submitted two proposals.
In one, a barge will place the boulders, substantially
reducing the impact on the river.
Everything weíve discovered so far indicates that
submerged obstructions would benefit spawning salmon by
providing a resting place for the fish as they travel
to the Fish Ladder, said Landman.
Professionals at Gartner Lee, a local engineering firm,
have drafted the plan.
And professional surveyors and planners, who just
happen to belong to the club, have also volunteered,
said Landman.
The club expects opponents to its plan, but itís not
threatened by them.
The club appreciates feedback from anyone, regardless
of their point of view, said Beebe.
Our goal is to create an environmentally responsible
white-water park that will benefit the community said
Landman.

It would be ideal if we could do this in 1998,
enabling Whitehorse to re-create the famed Whitehorse
Rapids to commemorate the Gold Rush Centennial.

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All content ©1997 The Yukon News