White Water Parks

With chilly winter temperatures settling over the region, summertime fun may seem too far to even fathom. Yet, as Christmas and holiday decorations go on clearance, stores are already stocking up on patio sets and garden supplies. Our sights are already set on warmer days! As we plan for beach days and campfire nights, Friends of the Big Sioux River is thinking about ways to protect and enhance the resources that make those adventures possible.

Outdoor recreation plays a huge role in American society, particularly benefiting the economy. According to a 2012 study by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA):

  • Outdoor adventurers spend $120.7 billion on apparel, footwear, equipment, vehicles, accessories, and services and an additional $524.8 billion on food/drink, transportation, entertainment, lodging, and souvenirs
  • The ripple effect of outdoor recreation-based revenue has a $1.6 trillion economic impact
  • Outdoor recreation can be tied to 12 million jobs.

The great outdoors offers American communities the opportunity to turn a profit in their own backyard.

Across the country, regions with rivers are focusing on ways to ramp up their recreation-based income as the popularity of water recreation, particularly paddle sports, continues to increase. During the 2013 season, the OIA recorded approximately:

  • 13 million canoers
  • 10 million kayakers
  • 3 million rafters
  • 2 million paddle boarders

Each year, these paddlers search for the best kayaks or canoes, scout out exciting destinations, and spend their hard earned money in communities with safe and exciting rivers.

In order to attract paddlers, some riverside towns have invested in “whitewater parks.” Communities construct dams or install water pumps to simulate a fast flowing river. The intensified current allows kayakers and rafters to enjoy whitewater recreation on rivers where it might not otherwise be possible. The most obvious benefit of the parks, according to Scott Shipely, is the economic impact. S2O Design states whitewater parks in Vail and Golden, Colorado generate millions of dollars in economic impact per year, boosting traffic at local hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores. Vail has also taken advantage of the waterpark as a place to hold sporting and cultural events. Each year, the Teva Mountain Games are hosted in Vail, an event which attracts over 30,000 visitors who spend over $3 million! The economic opportunities for water recreation are limitless and can help communities grow and thrive.

Siouxland Success: Regional Whitewater Parks

The Midwest has been particularly successful in developing and attracting visitors to whitewater parks. Check out these parks!

The Des Moines Register reported the Charles City park has a $746,000 yearly impact. Granite Falls, MN has recently invested in their own whitewater project.

Parks for Healthier Rivers

In addition to creating an exciting new attraction, installing a whitewater park can help a river on sevveral fronts.

  1. Water Quality: With more people interacting with and directly profiting from the water, people are more likely to consider ways in which their actions influence the river.
  2. More Game Fish: A whitewater park would create deep holes that would provide protection for fish during the summer, as they can hunker down and keep cool. The faster moving water also increases the amount of oxygen in the water, which helps out our finned friends!
  3. Restored Banks: The development of the river would require the banks to be reinforced with rebar and quartzite. This helps reduce erosion and can help ameliorate some of the damage that’s already been done.
  4. Riverside Buffers: Whitewater park development requires more than altering a river’s current. It also means creating a space for recreationists to get on the water, take a break, or admire the rapids. Developing a green space around the new attraction often means the incorporation of patches of grass, stands of trees, and other living landscape, which will help capture or slow down potentially polluted runoff.
  5. Aesthetic Value: Whitewater rapids make for beautiful and dramatic landscapes. Rushing water adds an exciting backdrop to any community!

Opportunities for the Big Sioux

South Dakota has a strong community of paddlers. The state is home to the Sioux Falls Paddlers, South Dakota Canoe & Kayak Association, Sioux Empire Paddlers, and South Dakota Kayak Challenge. Water recreationists across the state enjoy local lakes and rivers, and towns on those lakes and rivers benefit from the recreation economy.

Positioned on the Big Sioux River, Sioux Falls finds itself in the opportune position to take advantage of the burgeoning outdoor economy. By providing recreationists with a clean and safe river, our community opens the doors to businesses that can provide food, apparel, and equipment to a new demographic interested in what southeast South Dakota has to offer. For over a year, Mitchell Joldersma and his supporters have been advocating for the installation of a whitewater park in Sioux Falls. The proposed water park could generate as much as $1 to $1.5 million in revenue for Sioux Falls stores, gas stations, and other hospitality businesses. The park would provide a huge boost in jobs, tourism, and profits for the Sioux Falls area.

The installation of a whitewater park requires five planning stages: 1) assessment, 2) design/analysis, 3) permitting, 4) construction, and 5) completion. Phase I, which includes the assessment of a site, recruitment of stakeholders, and conducting a feasibility study, has been completed. Phase II, which revolves around design and planning, is already underway. If progress continues unhindered, Sioux Falls may soon be home to its very own whitewater park.

Until then, Sioux Falls can still promote the Big Sioux River as a tourist and recreation destination. The number of access points around Sioux Falls makes the river a convenient swimming hole or canoe trip launch point. Photographers certainly won’t be disappointed by the vistas. Furthermore, each year, Downtown Sioux Falls hosts Riverfest, a celebration of music and food along the shores of our Big Sioux. The yearly festival attracts hundreds of people and spurs business in the downtown area. Our river has a lot to offer!

Challenges Facing the Big Sioux River

While the financial implications for river recreation are fairly clear, there are several other considerations that must be weighed against the power of the dollar. The water coursing through the veins of the Big Sioux has seen better days. While not listed as a threat to public health, testing of the Big Sioux River has yielded results that may give some recreationists reasons to pause. On warm summer days, the river is more likely to be the color of hot chocolate than the crystalline clear-blue of clean water. Contaminated runoff and non-point source pollution plague our river while suspended solids, e. coli, and fecal coliform continue to be a problem. Whether Sioux Falls residents choose to support a whitewater park or simply wish for a healthy and natural space to perfect a cannonball, it is clear that we have some work to do. As a community, committing to cleaner water opens up a number of financial, recreational, and aesthetic opportunities that might not otherwise be possible.

There are many ways the Big Sioux River can be used to better serve residents or attract newcomers. If you’re interested in developing this resource for your community, consider ways in which you can be a positive voice for change for your river. Be mindful of the ways you can make a difference for your river. As you battle the remainder of snow season, do more scooping and less salting. Begin doing research on how you can plant native prairie plants or seed fescues in the spring. Pay attention to the upcoming South Dakota legislative session to monitor progress on buffer bills and other river positive practices. Be a voice for your river! Be an advocate for your community’s financial and environmental success!