City official has high hopes for funding of whitewater park

Jenna Gerling

Something big has been making waves in Kent: The proposal of a whitewater park on the Cuyahoga River that would be built using state funds.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has $3.6 million in grant money available for such projects, but John Idone, director of parks and recreation, has high hopes for the $1.5 million plan.

Project submissions for the grant were due yesterday. Projects receiving money will be notified in August or September.

“It’s a competitive process with the grants, but we feel that our project has strong merits due to the fact that it improves access to the Cuyahoga River,” Idone said. “In addition, the whole concept of a whitewater park in Northeast Ohio is something new and something that the state is very excited about.”

The grant would be awarded from the Division of Watercraft under cooperative public boating facility projects. Other grants awarded from this division range from boating safety education to marine patrol assistance, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Web site.

John Wisse, spokesperson for the Division of Watercraft of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said they won’t be able to comment on this project until it nears the fall deadline.

If the city does not get the money, City Manager Dave Ruller said it would have to look at some sort of phasing approach for the project.

“It would just mean it would take longer to get to where we would want to get to,” he said. “If the funding becomes an issue, we wouldn’t abandon the idea. We would just have to regroup with the community and see how high a priority it is.”

As far as the probability of funding goes, Idone thinks the project will rank highly. However, portions of the project being proposed, such as the instream improvements for the river’s whitewater condition, have never been funded by this grant before.

Idone said the city would use large boulders to create surf waves in the water even though the river already has some natural whitewater aspects. The surf waves would be a feature for all to enjoy – kayakers, canoers and even inner tubers.

The project runs from the Crain Avenue Bridge to John Brown Tannery Park, running a quarter of a mile long, which is a little longer than the average whitewater park.

“It’s short – this is a perception that many people don’t realize is that these parks are not being built so that you flow from point X and point Y,” Ruller said. “Really the idea here is you jump in the river and you stay in one section for hours. There’s enough different technical skill areas in that little quarter mile that you get to do some different stuff.”

In addition to changes in the water, the city is proposing to improve the Kent Cuyahoga Riveredge Park by building a public boat launching ramp off of River Bend Park and adding restrooms and a changing area, along with landscaping.

As far as the city of Kent goes, Idone said such a park brings the prospect of spurring new restaurants and businesses to stimulate the economy – making Kent a tourist destination.

“We have several people interested in opening up a canoe and a kayak livery,” Idone said. “Some type of outdoor adventure stores would benefit from this.”

Even though they’re still in the investigative stages, Kent State’s Outdoor Adventure Center plans to open a satellite location downtown where people can rent kayaks, canoes, inner tubes, bikes, fishing gear and possibly cross country skis and snow shoes in the winter.

“It would be a great opportunity for our department and the university to provide a service for the community in a unique way and to have some type of rental operation,” said Dave Herpy, outdoor adventure coordinator at Kent State’s Department of Recreational Services. “This would be based in downtown Kent, which would put us in the middle of all of the action, and make us a lot more visible and accessible to the people who live in the downtown area.”

Besides renting equipment, Herpy said they’re looking to continue to offer their instructional programs on the Cuyahoga River from the new location.

Ruller said all parts of the community, like businesses, residents and the university, have given him positive feedback about the proposal. Something he said was important was finding an alternative for people other than the night scene.

“This is something that certainly students would be able to take advantage of, but people that live here would also be able to enjoy on their own convenience,” Ruller said. “We’ve had folks outside of Kent, as far away as Cleveland, say it’s a trip they would consider worth making if there was something like this in play.”

Idone said if they are awarded the grant, their time table would be about 15 months of design, making them ready to put out for bid in spring of 2010. Construction would take place in summer of 2010, completing the park by fall of that year.

Contact public affairs reporter Jenna Gerling at [email protected].