Reviving the Saranac Lake River Walk area is a critical component of community revitalization in Saranac Lake. We are working to bring back the Whitewater Park to create education and recreation opportunities.
A whitewater park is an area on a river in which the flow and gradient have been altered in order to create river “features” that lend themselves to canoeists, kayakers, or even stand up paddleboards being able to do tricks, race, and perform other recreational activities. These features can be holes, waves, or some combination of the two. Holes are created when water flows over a submerged and immobile object, thus causing the water to recirculate and flow back upstream (sometimes referred to as a hydraulic). Waves are similar to holes but have a smooth face of water that rushes up and down their peak, rather than a drop off into a hydraulic. Additionally, waves have less of a recirculating hydraulic flow than holes. Simply imagine the wake of a motor boat in only one location on a river, and you have a wave.
Whitewater parks usually combine both waves and holes to create an interconnected system of features perfect for the adventure seeker. In Saranac Lake we are trying to rebuild a single whitewater feature, most likely a wave. The nice thing about a single feature is that it allows for enjoyment by paddlers, tubers and boogieboarders alike. Similar whitewater parks, surrounded by trails and recreational areas, have not only achieved their original objectives of providing a venue for local water sports enthusiasts, but have often exceeded expectations by becoming focal points for their communities and recreational destinations for outdoor tourism on a regional basis.
Saranac Lake’s Whitewater Legacy
This is not the first time this section of the Saranac River has been used for whitewater recreation. In 1995 a group of local whitewater paddlers joined together to build what was to be known as the Hydro Point Park Project, which was comprised of the still-existent River Walk, as well as a beginner whitewater kayak/canoe practice area. This whitewater training area extended from the foot of Lake Flower Dam to an area across the river from the current Beaver Park, then called the Boy Scout Canoe Launch. The training area covered 500 feet of river and included 24 wooden slalom gates, similar to the gates used for the summer Olympics. During the construction of this training area, whitewater racing was quite popular, and slalom courses were popping up all over the country, even showing up in college pools.
To create the whitewater training area several jetties were installed using local stone and other natural materials. Most of the labor for construction came from volunteers, including members of a paddling club called Adirondack Paddlers, as well as students in the Wilderness Recreation Leadership Program at North Country Community College. Combined with a new Riverwalk and surrounding landscaping, the whole area was a sight to behold! Others seemingly thought so as well because the training area received a lot of use from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.
In 1995, the year the whitewater training area was completed, the first annual Riverfest was held at Hydro Point Park. This three-day fundraising event for the Riverwalk attracted boaters from across the northeastern United States, many of whom were there specifically for whitewater activities. Popular kayaking brands such as Dagger and Perception offered free boat demos, and the Riverfest Slalom Race held at the whitewater training area saw dozens of participants!
Festivals weren’t the only activity to happen at Hydro Point Park. Whitewater canoe and kayak instructional courses were also a well-attended pastime. For over 10 years local youth were taught by paddling instructors Jim Sausville (the project director for the whitewater training area construction) and Jason Smith (the owner of Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters). Some of the best whitewater paddlers in the state learned from their courses and experienced top-level education in paddling. Jim and Jason are often known for their stories of learning how to roll a kayak and racing in the slalom course gates during their younger years.
Time to Rebuild
Whatever happened to the whitewater training area; where does it stand today? Due to flooding, a leadership turnover, and financial constraints this area fell into disrepair in the mid-2000s. A brief resurgence took place in the late 2000s when an Eagle Scout project led by local whitewater kayaker Luke Eckert spent a great deal of effort restoring some of the features and making the training area usable again. However, mother nature had her own plans, and the “500-year flood” of 2011 sealed the fate of the whitewater training area. It has sat in a state of disrepair ever since, despite several local groups, such as Paul Smith’s College and North Country School, still using it for educational purposes.
Fast forward to modern times. In 2016, local whitewater boater Scott McKim and board members of AdkAction met with Jim Sausville to discuss the possibility of rebuilding the whitewater park. The popularity of slalom racing has diminished in the last few decades, but demand for whitewater boating continues to grow. Playboating, or staying on one feature and practicing, continues to be one of the best ways to enjoy whitewater boating, as well as training for other whitewater activities. From speaking to several experts in the field, a single-feature whitewater park on the Saranac River was determined to be the most practical, universally-enjoyable, and permanent option. Since that meeting, there has been a lot of progress and loads of public support for the project.
Feasibility Study Completed
$411,000 Awarded to Development of the Whitewater Park
Spearheaded by AdkAction members Scott McKim and Tyler Merriam, AdkAction has started the process leading to the design and construction of the Whitewater Park on the Saranac River, right in the Village of Saranac Lake. Years ago, there was a small whitewater feature there made from boulders which were arranged in the river, but it has been washed out. This new park will be a permanent installation that includes a wave that paddlers can play and practice on. There aren’t many places like this in the North Country, so this should be a good attraction for whitewater boaters.
Recognizing the opportunity that the Downtown Revitalization Initiative presented (the $10 million grant that the State just awarded to the Village of Saranac Lake last year), with the help of many AdkAction members, board members, and the Cloudsplitter Foundation, we funded a feasibility study and conceptual design to see if the development of this park was a feasible idea for this location. Turns out, it is! The conceptual design for the Whitewater Park is pictured below, and the entire Feasibility Study is available here. The study analyzed the flows and other characteristics of the Saranac River, and it shows that there is plenty of water for a good wave. It would be a great addition to our community and all the boaters we’ve talked to are anxious to try it.
On Thursday, July 25, 2019, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the Saranac Lake DRI (Downtown Revitalization Project) Awards. In total, there were 19 projects and proposals submitted for the $9.7 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative award. Of those 19 proposals, state officials chose 10 projects that were submitted by the Local Planning Committee in March. Among the 10 projects that were selected was our proposal for the whitewater park in Saranac Lake. A total of $410,616 will be put toward the development of a beautiful whitewater park. This project will include a modification to a small portion of the Saranac River, making it a desirable location for whitewater kayaking. The whitewater feature will be located beneath the Mayor Frank Ratigan Memorial Bridge and will include infrastructure that is built to last. The DRI funding was a crucial step in getting the project off the ground and will be a wonderful way to attach new visitors to the Saranac Lake area.
This project is going to bring great energy to downtown Saranac Lake and revive the riverwalk. It will be a great addition to the Village and will draw people for miles around. Keep an eye out for updates online and via social media, and we welcome any input the public may have to aid in this project’s success!
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Help us bring back a new and improved whitewater park in downtown Saranac Lake!