Kayak Dream
A Whitehorse Star Archive story originally published January 5, 1998

Yukon white water paddlers have a dream — it involves a fast-flowing river, some big rocks and a bit of bureaucratic vision.
The Yukon River is ready and waiting. And the boulders? They’re easy to find.

“You need obstructions ... you need waves and holes,” 25-year paddler Bob Daffe said in an interview Friday. He’s thought long and hard about restoring some of the rapids in the once white-frothed river that gave Whitehorse its name.

Daffe has seen the rocks needed at a local quarry, and a bevy of paddlers — from surveyors to hydrologists — have stepped forward to offer free help.

“We always thought it was impossible, too complicated, but they all say, ‘This is my field of expertise. I can do it for you.’ ”

Now, if only the Yukon Territory Water Board and the federal Department of Fisheries could envision this paddler’s watery field of dreams.

All that’s needed is a federal land-use permit (to dump rocks on the river bottom) and a bit of study to ensure resident fish won’t mind a change in underwater topography.

“This is the ideal location ... you’d have more of the river to use, and it’s better for training,” said Daffe.

He spent part of his Christmas holiday paddling the river and surveying exact depths of their proposed water park site, with help from a crew of volunteers from the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club.

“It was cold,” said Daffe, who took a few icy dips while measuring the water depth with a rod so engineers can figure out exactly how to create a water park.

“We know we need a rock in the water ... but how big a rock?”

He pointed to a map of the 150-metre swath of water, along the shore near the salmon hatchery, just downstream of the city intake, which already serves as a small paddler’s playground.

The map shows a channel east of the gravel island, marked with spots where rock piles or shore spurs could help create the eddies and waves needed for a paddler’s haven.

The waterway has a strong, consistent flow and good access — by sinking a few rocks, it could become more than just a pretty view.

The estimated $30,000- to $40,000-project would also provide a perfect training ground for students and competition paddlers. It also offers that healthy adrenalin rush that teenagers crave, said Theresa Landman, a leader of the paddling club, which offers a free youth program every summer.

“It’s such an advantage having a river running right through town,” said Landman, vice-president of the about 75-member Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club. “Adding this park would make us really competitive in rodeos down south.”

Landman and Daffe attend the white water competitions from Fairbanks, Alaska, to the Kananaskis River in Alberta and as far south as Idaho. They know the kind of crowd that good eddies draw.

“We have some new people in the club that would really like to see it going,” said Landman, who’s working with Daffe to create a proposal. “We could have an impressive rodeo.”

The club already has letters of support from the Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon, Tourism Yukon, the Department of Education and the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.

Bruce Thompson, the physical education head at F.H. Collins Secondary School, wrote to offer his support and possible fundraising for the project.

He said, “We have found the big waves at the end of the water intake are too difficult for developing paddlers we are teaching, but the rocks located below the intake promise a wider range of river conditions.”

Paddlers involved in the push for a water park hope to get it approved by the necessary arms of the federal government by spring, so building could begin.

First, they must determine just how much silting the rock piles or boulders will create to ensure the white water park does not disrupt salmon spawning.

“The biggest problem is the potential to impact work that’s been done downstream,” Gail Faulkner, chief of the habitat and enhancement branch of the fisheries department, said Friday.

She estimates that approval could take anywhere from three months to a year if a study is needed on the fish that use the area where the park is planned.

Last summer, spawning, over wintering and rearing channels were constructed to offset damage to habitat done during last summer’s rebuilding of the Robert Service Way.

If approval is granted by April or May, and the club gets community development funding or donations, it would take an estimated two weeks to create the white water paradise near the historical spot where the Canyon City tramway ended. Anyone who had a fatal encounter with the rapids was buried along the gravel bar for $2 a corpse.

For years, paddlers have looked out over the spot and dreamed of the long-disappeared eddies and holes.

They’re not asking for much, joked Daffe - just the one thing a white water fanatic always yearns for.

“We always wanted a rock in the river.”

All content 1997 The Whitehorse Star