River park has rocky ride

Local paddlers want to dump rocks in the Yukon River, but they need $500,000 to see if that's possible. The idea to turn a portion of the river into a whitewater canoe and kayak slalom course came back before Whitehorse city council on Monday night.

Local paddlers want to dump rocks in the Yukon River, but they need $500,000 to see if that’s possible.

The idea to turn a portion of the river into a whitewater canoe and kayak slalom course came back before Whitehorse city council on Monday night.

The Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club is behind Rock the River, along with city projects and community development co-ordinator Douglas Hnatiuk.

The club has faced opposition to the park from city politicians since it first started studying the issue in 2007, said Hnatiuk.

“You can get the project in place, you can spend the money, you can build it, but you can’t just walk away,” said Mayor Bev Buckway. “Someone has to be there, after the fact, to make sure that things are as they need to be and we’re very cautious that would land in the city’s bailiwick.”

While sinking rocks in the river – to allow for eddies and more whitewater – would be done by the club and its stakeholders, Buckway is concerned about safety, signs, washrooms, garbage and who’s responsible if the rocks cause the river to flood or flow in ways the surrounding banks and trails cannot handle.

“There’s a culture of fear with nonprofit’s,” said Councillor Ranj Pillai, echoing Buckway’s concerns about liability.

Once the course is in place, the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club volunteers could eventually abandon their obligation for continued maintenance and operation, he said.

“It’s not that people don’t support this idea, or the paddling community,” he said.

It is that community that got Hnatiuk behind this idea in the first place.

The result would not just be a water park. It would support emerging businesses, promote sport and recreation in the water and would be a huge educational piece, encouraging proper respect, safety and etiquette about a place in our own yard, said Hnatiuk.

“The goal was to be a community-driven project,” he said. “The Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club, they’ve been on the go in Whitehorse since 1963. They’re not a club that just emerged because of this interest. They’ve got a lot of history and they’re a very strong organization. I think we have to realize the sustainability and longevity of that club.”

Besides, the city is not expected to front the $500,000.

The project already received $15,000 from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.

Now the group is tapping Ottawa again, asking for $490,000 to complete a two-year study.

The study will develop a business plan for the project, an operating philosophy that would lay out who is in charge of doing what – and an in-depth, technical study into the hydrology of the whole project, meaning how the changes would affect the river, how it flows, erosion on the banks and more.

“We want to go beyond just putting a few rocks in the water, we want to address some of the erosion concerns already there,” said Hnatiuk, adding at least half of proposed money is for the technical hydrological science.

“We see the value of the Yukon River, especially in that area. That’s why it costs so much money to really do it right.”

The proposed park would stretch from the Rotary Centennial Bridge to the Selkirk Pumphouse with two courses – one along the Riverdale side, and one along the Robert Service Campground side, Hnatiuk said.

It will probably include the placement of some natural rock structures, which would look like fingers, along the Riverdale side of the bank that channel and redirect the current, creating eddies along the side, he said.

As well, the Bert Law Footbridge, near the campground, would have to be raised a couple of metres while the riverbed would have to be dredged.

The study would ensure this can be done, with greatest respect to the environment.

While city council has not voted to support the request for $500,000 from Ottawa just yet, Buckway and many councillors support the idea of getting more answers.

In their respective arguments, both Buckway and Hnatiuk mention the Millennium Trail that circles the same portion of the river around Whitehorse.

The city has already had problems with erosion and had to foot the bill for replacing stretches of the path, said Buckway.

That path had many detractors, but is now wildly popular, said Hnatiuk. This park would be similar.

All the proponents want, for now, is council’s support.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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