The Sacandaga Whitewater Park, a project to improve the rapids on the Sacandaga River with man-made waves, passed a major hurdle last week when the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) approved all the permitting during its October 13 meeting.
The Sacandaga-Hudson River Advisory Council, a nonprofit aimed at increasing regional recreation tourism, is behind the proposal, and has been pushing the $1 million project since 2004.
The Sacandaga Whitewater Park is designed to include three “park and play” boating areas between the Stewarts Bridge Dam on the Sacandaga River and the confluence of the Hudson River 3.5 miles downstream. Large boulders would be placed in the river at these sites to push and direct water over natural obstacles, typically rocks, thereby creating “hydraulic features” that allow whitewater boaters to perform stunts and improve their technique.
“This site is ideal for this kind of whitewater park,” said project leader John Duncan, who first introduced the idea in 1998. He said the river’s “on-off flow” is a significant draw for avid kayakers who look for waterways that guarantee constant high-quality waves. A 40-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license issued in 2002, guarantees recreational dam releases on the Sacandaga River. Approximately 4,000 cubic-feet-per- second of water is released every day from the third Saturday in June to Labor Day, and on the weekends between Memorial Day and the third Saturday in June.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to develop a unique whitewater destination in the Adirondack Park that will benefit both kayak and other whitewater enthusiasts,” said Keith McKeever, public information officer for the APA. “The proposal demonstrates communities working with their assets to build tourism and economies using indirect benefits from the Sacandaga River's hydropower licenses.”
If installed, conservative projections of the whitewater park’s economic return suggest $1 million of private sector activity each year, based on the assumption that tourists will take advantage of local goods, services and amenities, and that the river will attract relevant events. Saratoga County would enjoy a three percent share of the tax revenue, and new jobs would be created.
“It will be huge for the region as a whole if it’s done correctly,” said Saratoga Springs kayaking instructor Johnny Miller. “Kayaking is a great boost to the economy and kayakers will travel from all over if it’s done correctly.”
Miller said this region is already one of the best places in the world to launch and grow a kayaking career, and that a project to improve the whitewater kayaking experience with manmade waves will only add to the recreational appeal.
“I have been trying to grow the sport by teaching people first in the Saratoga YMCA pool,” Miller said, explaining that if people learn the skills in the pool where they are more comfortable, they can eventually pursue moving water and graduate to whitewater rapids.
One particular student, Ed Cunningham of Ballston Spa, has been kayaking for nine years, the past three on whitewater. He has been following the whitewater park project and is waiting to see what happens.
“A lot of ‘playboaters’ are really looking forward to those improvements, and to having local access to quality waves,” Cunningham said.
With the recent APA approval, all of the permits are now in place for the Sacandaga- Hudson River Advisory Council to move forward with the whitewater park project. The next step would be to obtain $1 million in funding, which has been a challenge for the kayaking group since the proposal was first brought to the table.
But a new obstacle appeared this week: a property conflict with National Grid. Duncan received a phone call from a company representative early Wednesday, October 25, bringing to his attention that two of the proposed manmade wave sites involve placing rocks on National Grid’s river property.
“They refused to allow that to happen, so two of the sites may not currently be feasible,” Duncan said.
Although he is hopeful the third site will remain available and conflict free, Duncan said there is always “someone” that is unhappy.
“We’re 10-14 years down the line now, and I never anticipated it would take this much time and effort,” he said. “I never thought finding the funding was going to be the easy part, but it appears that may be the case.”