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Boise Opens Long-Awaited River Park

The City of Boise Thursday officially opens its whitewater river park. Building it has been a long process.

Boise’s Park superintendent Tom Governale remembers when he first heard the idea of a whitewater park in Boise. It was 14 years ago.

“We were approached by a group of citizens one day that basically said you know we’d like to have some type of river feature so we don’t always have to drive the hour up to the Payette River, something close to home," he says. "Do you mind if we just put some rocks in the river? And you know we swallowed real hard and said no you just can’t put rocks in the river, you have federal permits, state permits, local permits, you have to worry about flooding issues.” 

Governale says that meeting led the city to develop a master plan for the river. That took about a year and had a recommendation for a river park. But then there was fund raising and planning followed by two years of construction, before Thursday night’s ribbon cutting. It cost nearly $4 million to build, $1.5 million of that came from the city. The rest came from private donations and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. What the city has now is a dam that creates a place for whitewater enthusiasts to practice year round.

Governale points to where a kayaker rides the swell below. "We have two mechanisms that are hydraulically driven, they’re called wave shapers," he explains. "We actually have a control building on the other side of the river and we can adjust these mechanisms to manipulate the hydraulics of the river. So we can make it for different levels of boaters and we can make it for different levels of water.”

That’s a long way from rocks in the river. And tailor made waves are only a part of what this dam does. It also provides irrigation. It was built to replace a century old diversion dam that brought water into Garden City and beyond. The park is small, just the dam, boat ramps, a bit of landscaping and an observation area but the city plans a second whitewater feature downstream sometime in the future. It will also be next to the much larger Ester Simplot Park. The City of Boise plans to start work on that by the end of the year.

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