Craig receives $3.3 million federal grant for whitewater park

Amber Delay
Craig Press
Craig received a $3.3 million grant to help fund a white water park that would diversify the economy in Moffat County.
John F. Russell

Craig has been awarded a $3.3 million Economic Development Administration Assistance to Coal Communities Grant for construction of the Yampa River Corridor Project. 

The corridor project is the result of a multi-year planning process with local agencies designed to stabilize and diversify the economy in Craig and Moffat County after the closure of the coal mines and power plant. 

The city and county collaborated to secure this federal funding for the project, which will upgrade the city’s water intake infrastructure, as well as add new visitor amenities along the river.

The EDA funding will support approximately 70% of the project costs, which were estimated at $4.6 million this year.

Yampa River Corridor Project Manager Melanie Kilpatrick said that match partners have committed to the remainder of the project funding, and the only variable could be inflation, which has affected other projects over the years. 

The corridor project encompasses several improvements to Loudy Simpson Park, including a new concrete boat ramp, access road and parking area, as well as improving the existing diversion dam site with a whitewater park, access road, parking area and park amenities.

According to a statement from Kilpatrick, the project fits into Craig’s master plan for parks, recreation, open space and trails. It also fits within the Moffat County Vision 2025 Transition Plan, which outlines proactive strategies to help the community transition from a coal-centered economy. 

The goal of the EDA funding is to support economic resilience by diversifying the region’s economic base. The idea is that having an outdoor recreational amenity so close to town will attract more visitors to spend time in town, creating a ripple effect in the local economy. 

While visitors bring in tourism dollars, the employees who serve those tourists then spend money on other goods and services in town. There have been studies in other communities where similar projects have taken place to measure the economic impact of whitewater parks. 

  • A 2006 study in Durango estimated that whitewater recreation created 33 jobs for $1 million in annual sales from tourist dollars. 
  • In 2009, the University of Idaho estimated that a whitewater park in Cascade, Idaho, generated $8.2 million annually from this ripple effect. 
  • A whitewater park in Truckee, Nevada, reported economic benefits ranged from $1.9 million to $4.1 million annually. 

Good Vibes River Gear and the Craig RV Park, local employers whose businesses would directly benefit from growth in river tourism, have committed to adding over 30 new full-time employees. And it’s estimated that the project will create approximately 129 new jobs in both direct and adjacent industries.

“We’re committed to Craig,” said Josh Veenstra, owner of Good Vibes. “We produce our gear right here in town. When more river rats stop here for the day, we can sell more products — and that means we can create more local jobs. This can be good for us and great for Craig.”

Kilpatrick said the project will expand river access for a variety of different boaters, as well as adding benefits for the larger public.

A new concrete boat ramp will be added at a more suitable location a quarter mile downstream from the picnic area. A new parking area will include nine boat trailer spaces, 28 single vehicle spots, and three ADA spaces. 

Craig’s current city water intake diversion dam is a 200-foot wide and 10-feet high barrier made of concrete and rip rap boulders. Kilpatrick said in a statement that the existing diversion is in disrepair and needs to be updated.

In its current condition, the diversion can also be a hazard for boaters, and it blocks passage for numerous fish species, several of which are federally listed endangered species. 

Replacing the current diversion dam with a natural channel design will allow the city to continue to draw its allotted water from the river and will improve boater safety and year-round fish passage. 

“This sustains the city’s water supply in a fiscally responsible way. That’s hugely important to us,” Kilpatrick said. “We get improved fish passage, and healthier aquatic and riparian habitat. We get better access to the river. And we get the economic development associated with whitewater recreation.”

Kilpatrick said the natural channel design is what will allow for the creation of a new whitewater park. The in-river park will have enough river water to allow for good boating, and enough drop to create challenging features. 

The whitewater park design has two “drop structures” submerged in narrow river channels, giving paddlers sizable drops to navigate, along with multiple eddies and chutes. A new parking lot and access point for small water crafts will be added near the whitewater park. 

In addition to the federal funding received, the city and county are making sizable financial contributions. The city is contributing $658,656, and the county is contributing $150,000.

City and county staff have collaborated over several years to secure additional matching funds required by the federal grant. 

Fundraising and increasing cost estimates were a challenge, and in two years, the project costs nearly doubled. But city and county staff were able to secure funding for the full project amount. 

“Construction prices have been jumping quickly,” said City Manager Peter Brixius. “The price increases would not surprise anyone who has thought about a small remodel or landscaping project on their home. It’s important that we get this done now. We can lock in our prices, start work in and around the river, and begin seeing the benefits of our planning.”

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