The mud red rivers and lakes in Oklahoma City may soon be overshadowed by a new, much more pristine water element.
Designers of a proposed white-water racing and training course on the Oklahoma River downtown said the facility, when built, stands to attract Olympic and professional training teams from across the country.
But just as significant, the rapids will be just one more attraction for kids and families citywide to spend some time outdoors in the city's developing boathouse district, said Scott Shipley, president of S2o Design.
“We want that rafting experience to be the gateway to those other outdoor experiences that are already there,” Shipley said. “This park is all about putting down your Nintendo, putting away that 36-ounce Coke and coming down to get active.”
The white-water course is one of several elements of impending development to the riverfront area south of downtown. The $33.3 million project budget comprises more than half of all riverfront improvement funding allocated in the MAPS 3 sales tax projects approved by city voters in 2009.
In January, the advisory board that oversees MAPS projects will recommend the city council begin the process of acquiring more than 11 acres of mostly vacant riverfront property to develop the white-water course.
David Todd, program manager for MAPS 3, said the course will be built on the face of 20-foot hill that will be erected on the property just east of the current rowing facilities.
Gravity will send water rushing through concrete channels and across the elements that will create turbulence for the rapids. Users — on rafts or in kayaks — will traverse the circular course in about six to eight minutes, he said.
Channels will be built for both novices and experts, he said, and the course will be constructed in such a way that the water flow can be controlled and the rapids elements reconfigured to cater to specific types of users.
The water will be filtered and recirculated within the course, he said. The course will not connect to the Oklahoma River.
“The goal is to create a state-of-the-art facility that not only the Olympians can use for training and we can use for races or contests, but all of us in the city can go and learn to kayak,” Todd said. “And you don't have to necessarily be on a kayak because there will also be basically guided rafting tours. It will be just like going down a river in Colorado.”
The conceptual design also includes several buildings for meeting space, administrative offices, locker rooms and a restaurant.
The Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, a nonprofit that currently oversees operations of the rowing facilities on the Oklahoma River, will be tasked with operating the course.
That organization's executive director, Mike Knopp, said the white-water course is part of an ambitious project to redefine Oklahoma City as a town friendly to water aquatics.
The original MAPS program in the 1990s funded the low-water dams that filled the river, and a series of private-public partnerships over the last decade has brought about several boathouses, rowing training facilities and a racecourse on the river, Knopp said.
USA Canoe/Kayak moved its headquarters to the boathouse district last year, and the Olympic and Paralympics kayak teams currently host their flat-water training there.
“When we were talking about rowing 10 years ago people thought that was nuts and now we've got one of the world's top venues for that,” he said. “The idea of being able to build a white-water course in the heart of the city is pretty unique.”
Shipley said the Oklahoma City course is modeled after one the company previously designed in Charlotte, N.C.
The former competitive kayaker — who competed in three Olympics before getting graduate degree in engineering — said S2o also designed the white-water park used in London for last summer's Olympics.
The circular course will include channels both for Olympic style training and general use, he said. Its design is flexible enough that it could also be used for firefighter swift water training.
Todd said construction is scheduled to begin near the end of 2013 with an opening expected sometime at the beginning of 2015.
The idea of being able to build a white-water course in the heart of the city is pretty unique.”
Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation executive director