CHARLES CITY — A white-water park on the Cedar River is starting to take shape.
Earthmovers and work crews have been placing boulders and concrete in the current that runs through downtown Charles City.
For the moment, it’s a construction site. But for kayaker Ty Graham of Cedar Falls it’s the first concrete step toward a longtime dream to bring white-water courses to North Iowa.
From atop a pedestrian bridge that overlooks the project, Graham tuned out the hum of heavy equipment and listened to the gentle roar of rushing water.
“Who doesn’t like this?” Graham asked.
The entrance to the flow is at a collection of rocks upstream from a foot bridge. The first swirling feature — called Dam Drop — is just below the bridge in a section of river that once featured a low-head dam.
It’s a waver for beginners that lets paddlers warm up for what’s to come, Graham said.
Farther down, near a temporary coffer dam put in place to build an outcropping, is Doc’s Drop, named after Graham’s kayaking partner, Steve “Doc” Weliver.
“You can pull any trick you want on that one,” Graham said.
Beyond is a smaller swell dubbed Exit Exam and then the exit itself.
The course will be available for kayakers, tubers and paddle boarders, according to Graham, who compared the feature to a summer version of a hill for sledding.
The white-water park is just part of a renovation project designed to make the area more inviting.
“This is the jewel in the crown,” City Administrator Tom Brownlow said.
In the past, the downtown portion of the Cedar River was framed by concrete walls or overgrown banks. And the area between the low-head dam and the larger dam a few blocks upstream was a stagnant dead zone.
The low-head dam itself was a danger. Tracy Meise, planning and project supervisor for Charles City, recalls a floating log caught in the dam’s pull. The current held the tree at the dam’s foot and rolled it for days, she said.
City officials are planning to add an amphitheater, children’s park and picnic areas.
Brownlow said the entire project is expected to cost about $2 million with about half of that going toward the white-water course. The city received grants totaling about $1 million to help with expenses, he said.
City officials said the river should draw tourists.
Graham said the course should be ready by summer if not late spring. During construction, the river is not open to the public.
Graham and Weliver, members of Prairie Rapids Paddlers, pitched the white-water park idea to city officials. Noted course designer Gary Lacy of Recreational Engineering and Planning of Boulder, Colo., was hired to create the course.
Jeff Reinitz is a reporter for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, a Lee Enterprises newspaper.