Clearing the waters

We write in response to a few letters and an editorial written recently in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise regarding the proposed whitewater park on the Saranac River downstream of the LaPan bridge in Saranac Lake. We greatly appreciate and value feedback from everyone, including local fishermen who mentioned that use of the whitewater park would conflict with a prime fishing spot. We would like to provide some information to reduce that concern.

We also believe that the whitewater park will have a beneficial effect on the local economy and will take advantage of synergy of the whitewater part with the River Walk, as pointed out in another recent letter by Doug Haney. We perceived through the Downtown Revitalization Initiative that the project had a great amount of local support, and AdkAction decided to sponsor the project through the DRI process. We would like to take this opportunity to address a few points that may help to clarify some aspects of what we’re proposing, should this project receive DRI funding.

There will be no cables strung across the river. The previous version of the park had cables across the river to hang slalom gates. We are not envisioning any type of slalom course, so no cables will interfere with casting of fishing lines. We’ve been proactive in approaching local fishing interests to assuage their concerns and have gotten nothing but approving nods from these folks.

The popularity of the previous whitewater feature at this location has been questioned — there were over 100 people of all ages who took lessons there over a 10-year period, many of whom have gone on to be expert paddlers. Silt buildup and flooding caused the river to change, and a lack of use ensued. With our more durable design, we plan to avoid this degradation. Furthermore, the ADE editorial incorrectly states that it would only cater to “small whitewater kayaks.” Canoes, small rafts, paddleboards, boogie boards and inner tubes will all safely and enjoyably use the feature.

From the outset of this project, we have tried our best to gauge local interest and not have this be a project that will benefit only a small slice of locals and tourists, or even one recreational user group over another. While we are paddlers AND fishermen, we are first and foremost local residents who have a vested interest in being part of the village and making it a vibrant place to live, play and call home. As such, we’d like to think there’s enough water locally to accommodate all activities, even in this location. The single whitewater feature we are proposing will only occupy about 15 yards of the river downstream from the LaPan bridge. There will be only minor modifications of the riverbank upstream of the LaPan bridge.

During our design process, we will be working with one of the country’s leading specialists on fish passage. We are committed to working with this fish habitat specialist, and as such, the creation of a whitewater feature will act to create upstream eddies on both sides of the river, establishing new fish habitat that currently doesn’t exist in the current river-wide plunge at this site. In addition, we are committed to installing a stream gauging station at this location that the village, local citizens and local science interests can use to access real-time physical and chemical properties of the river. In doing so, we see ourselves as stewards of our local waterway, and this will give us a way of monitoring the health of our river and its watershed. Furthermore, any proposed design elements in our feasibility study or spoken about in previous interviews (boulders, cement, rebar, etc.) are preliminary and will be modified in whatever way necessary, during the detailed design process, to ensure a healthy river ecosystem.

We feel the editorial piece in the ADE did not recognize the other benefits that this project could bring to the downtown area of the village. Where similar features have been built in other locales, they are acting as magnets for people to come spend time beside or in the river. They can then enjoy the downtown corridor, and it’s a way to celebrate the natural beauty that courses through our village. Of the many whitewater parks on other rivers coursing through downtown areas, statistically only 1 in 7 folks get wet, meaning 6 of every 7 visitors to the area are there picnicking, fishing or just enjoying the day. In concert with the proposed River Walk upgrades and the Dorsey Street parking lot proposals, we see great cooperation in action to transform this part of the village into a vibrant gathering place.

We would like to encourage feedback — both in support of and critical of — the whitewater park. Please feel free to email us at scottmckim@gmail.com.

Tyler Merriam, Tom Boothe and Scott McKim are part of the Saranac Lake Whitewater Park Project.