Steamboat Springs "Park-n-play" is one of the strongest trends in whitewater kayaking, and it's thriving in downtown Steamboat.
There was a time when kayakers had to drive great distances and paddle through long stretches of flat water to get to their favorite standing waves. No more.
Now, paddlers can get off work on a week night and be spinning 360s in a perfect wave 20 minutes later. Park-n-play convenience is here thanks to manmade hydraulics like the new D-Hole. It's just downstream from the Thirteenth Street Bridge on the Yampa River in Steamboat.
"Nobody anywhere in the state really has water right now," Wyatt Cohen said May 1. "We wouldn't be kayaking if it wasn't for this. Right now the river is running between 425 and 450 (cubic feet per second, or CFS) and it's great. That's the beauty of it."
He had just executed a series of dazzling maneuvers in the foaming whitewater.
Cohen was referring to the fact that the D-Hole (named for its proximity to the Depot Art Center), was carefully designed by Gary Lacey of Recreation Engineering and Planning. Lacey, who has built "artificial" whitewater features in parks all over the state, designed the D-Hole based on his knowledge of river hydrology. It is intended to provide sport for paddlers at almost of level of current.
The D-Hole offers more than just great whitewater; it offers convenience. There are parking lots on either side of the river, one at Lincoln Park, and the other at the Depot Arts Center.
The work was done last fall when the Yampa was at its lowest. It was accomplished with the help of a broad range of community groups in both the public and private sector.
Local whitewater entrepreneur Peter Van de Carr said a big chunk of the money used to build the new whitewater feature came from the proceeds of a tariff the city of Steamboat Springs imposed on commercial tubing operators a couple of years ago. That money was earmarked for river improvements downstream from the Fifth Street Bridge.
The Friends of the Yampa River played a major organizational role. Van de Carr said the city deserve significant credit for its role in the process. The Yampa Valley Community foundation channeled grant money into the project, and Fat Eddy's threadworks contributed the proceeds of a recent whitewater rodeo to the project.
Ed MacArthur of native Excavating donated the majority of the cost of the track-hoe and operator, plus the rock needed to build the structure.
Native's Rick Mewborn was the skilled operator who actually placed the rocks under Lacey's guidance.
"It was a lot of fun," Mewborn said nonchalantly.
Essentially, Lacey's design created two large rock wings opposing each other on the opposite banks They are shaped like two triangles, with their points coming about 25 feet short of meeting each other in the middle of the river. By forcing the current through the narrow opening, it's forced to accelerate through a pour-over that has the potential to create a standing wave. It's this standing wave that kayakers love to play on.
There's more to the D-Hole than meets the casual eye.
"It's a retentive wave," kayaker Chuck Simms said this week as he prepared to launch his boat into the D-Hole. "It will keep you in there. It's real friendly. What they call sticky. I'm optimistic it's going to keep on getting better."
That's one of the intriguing aspects of the D-Hole because it's so new, no one has seen what it looks like at high water say, 2,200 cubic feet per second.
The river had risen to 700 cfs by Friday, but still wasn't exhibiting a true standing wave. Kevin Thompson seemed unconcerned.
"It's pretty decent right down to 200 to 300 CFS," he said.
Cohen said one of the best design aspects of the D-Hole is the strong back flow. Pointing to the large eddies on either side of the river downstream from the hole, he said it is possible to see the water flowing back upstream and re-circulating.
"It's feeding back into itself," Cohen said, effectively pumping the same water through the hole more than once.
Eugene Buchanan, editor of Paddler Magazine, said it's no surprise Lacey and his crew are designing premium whitewater parks. They've designed similar features in Denver, Golden, Durango and other cities. Everything they learned along the way went into the D-Hole.
"This is one of the better holes these guys have designed," Buchanan said.
Van de Carr wants more of the same.
"This is a huge success as far as a community effort, he said. "And we're well on our way to having enough money to do another."