Reconstruction of kayakers' D-Hole is under way

Recreation Engineering and Planning and Native Excavating work to put it back together

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The "D" in D-Hole stood for "disappointment" last June. Now, steps are being taken to make things right with one of Steamboat Springs' most promising new kayak play holes.

The man-made kayak structure washed out during spring runoff in May, and the standing wave it was meant to produce never materialized. Paddlers who had been salivating at the prospects of surfing the big curl generated by the D-Hole were left wondering what happened.

Gary Lacy of Recreation Engineering and Planning and track hoe operator Rick Mewborn of Native Excavating were back in the river this week trying to put the D-Hole back together. This time, it will be modified in an attempt to eliminate the scouring that undermined the wave.

Lacy, who has designed kayak play structures in rivers all over the West, said the fate of the D-Hole was an extreme example of how the power of the recirculating water in the wave structure can scour a hole beneath the downstream side of the boulders that form the structure.

"The water didn't push the boulders down the stream; they didn't tumble downstream," Lacy said. "None of them have moved more than 6 feet." Instead, the boulders simply toppled into holes gouged out immediately downstream from them.

Lacy performed a formal survey of the original project and was able to locate his survey points this fall. That fact is expediting reconstruction of the D-Hole. All of the boulders he needs are already in the river. Without the need to truck in boulders, the project will be less expensive and less time-consuming.

This time around, he is taking two primary steps in an effort to ensure the force of the current doesn't disrupt the kayak structure once again.

Where the large boulders that once formed the structure were resting on cobble and gravel, they will now rest on more solid footing.

"We're placing very large foundation boulders right at the base, tucked into the structure," Lacy said. That should prevent the surging river from scouring holes once again. In addition, Lacy said, the foundation boulders will deflect water horizontally out of the wave. He has used the same technique in other major rivers with good results.

Second, Lacy observed that eddies that formed on either side of the D-Hole were unusually powerful. The eddies provide a place for kayakers to rest out of the main current, and they also make attractive swimming holes later in summer.

The upstream current created by the eddies in the D-Hole was unusually strong, and Lacy is convinced it contributed to the scouring effect that undermined the hole.

Mike Neumann of the city of Steamboat Springs Department of Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services said he is pleased that Lacy is standing behind his design work. He is providing his services for the rebuilding of the D-Hole at no additional charge, Neumann said.

The D-Hole was built in October 2001 where the Yampa River passes by the Depot Art Center just below the 13th Street Bridge. Kayakers never got a chance to see it in full effect in the summer of 2002 because maximum stream flows were less than 500 cubic feet per second. Last year, the kayak hole washed out before the river peaked.

The original construction of the D-Hole cost $17,000, Neumann said. The city supplied $7,000 and the Friends of the Yampa River supplied a comparable amount of cash. Native Excavating donated significant services to the project, and the Sheraton Steamboat donated much of the rock.

This time around, the city of Steamboat is footing the bill, but the cost of reconstruction will be lower -- between $3,000 and $4,000.

What happens if the D-Hole washes out again? Neumann said one possibility is grouting the boulders in place with cement. That would require a lengthy process to amend the city's permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, and there are no plans to follow that course.

Lacy said he would add to his base of knowledge from the experience with the D-Hole.

"Every project is a learning experience for everyone," Lacy said. "This is a community that pulls together. If there's an issue, the approach is to be constructive and solution oriented. That's the way I am on all my projects."

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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