City shares latest update on River Project

September 18, 2023

Ashley Dishman - Craig Press

Early-rising community members were treated to an update on the widely anticipated Yampa River Corridor Project.

City of Craig staffer Melanie Kilpatrick spoke at Thursday’s Community Conversations meeting presented by Memorial Regional Health. Recalling the origins of the project, Kilpatrick noted that it’s been nearly 10 years in the making.

Members of the local Parrotheads community first championed the cause, with the City becoming involved in more recent years.

The first phase of the project — focused on “Design & Engineering” — is now complete. The final design encompasses multiple areas of focus, notably rehabilitation for water diversion infrastructure and the creation of a whitewater river park and downriver boat ramp. The water park and boat ramp features will also include improvements to amenities such as parking and river access.

Kilpatrick shared that the city recently secured its last outstanding construction permit — a celebratory moment which has quickly transitioned into a “fast and furious” push to get the project out for bids this month.

he next phase of the project will be “Phase II: Construction & Implementation” — with the city ideally hoping to break ground this year.

One component of the project will involve upgrading infrastructure already in place for city water intake, which will allow the municipal water supply to be sustained a fiscally responsible manner.

Construction on a new boat ramp will occur approximately a quarter mile downriver from the existing boat ramp at Loudy-Simpson Park. In addition to the smaller crafts able to utilize the current ramp, the new ramp will provide easier access to larger crafts and be better suited for trailers and ADA parking. The hope is that the ramp will significantly improve public access to the river.

As for the whitewater park, Kilpatrick humorously mapped out the layout in layman’s terms of “basically: fun-splishy-splash, fun-splishy-splash and then just a nice ride on out through the park system.” She added that various upland improvements will be incorporated to compliment the in-stream improvements, including roads, parking lots, picnic shelters and amphitheater-style seating areas built into the bank. There will also be expanded trails and nature-based play areas featuring stumps, boulders and features that are in keeping with the natural outdoor environment.

The scope of the project will result in “a whole new park system.” Kilpatrick shared that special care was taken with planning, given that the area is largely wetlands, and the City wanted to minimize the impact of construction.

Continuing the theme of minimizing impact, Kilpatrick confirmed that camping will not be permitted in the area, as it will operate just like a normal city park and will be managed by the Parks & Recreation Department.

Following her presentation on the park itself, Kilpatrick took a deeper look at the mechanics behind its creation. She shared that the project actually started in 2020, but due to COVID and its accompanying market inflation and volatility, projected costs for the project nearly doubled in the intervening years.

Fortunately, “(the city) has been very diligent in pursuing grant funding for the project so it’s almost completely grant-funded at this point — not only for design and engineering, but also the construction phase of the project.”

Kilpatrick noted that the project “really brought together not only regional partners, but also statewide and had a great following and support.”

Last year, the project was awarded a $3.3 million grant from the EDA to support construction. A stipulation of the grant was that several business beneficiaries had to commit to the project, with specific regard to job creation and retention, as well as private investment. The river project secured local beneficiaries Good Vibes River Gear, Bad Alibi Distillery and the Craig RV Park. Each business has committed to creating or retaining a certain number of new jobs and private investment that they will move forward with as a result of the new infrastructure of the river park. This will be estimated to secure 249 new jobs and $31,500,000 in new private investment for the Craig community over a nine-year time period.

The project also received funding from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO)’s community-impact program, which will help provide for picnic shelters and other amenities that weren’t covered by the EDA grant.

Local, regional and state supporters and funding partners were also recognized as part of the presentation. Kilpatrick named their collaborative efforts as one of the project’s “biggest wins” and shared the City’s gratitude to “everyone who has provided letters of support, helped push forward, helped fund and continue working through the project.”

Local business owner and school board candidate Paula Belcher took the opportunity to commend the city staffers on their achievement, noting that it’s especially impressive “considering the cost increase and the amount of money you’ve been able to bring in to make this happen.”

The project is intended to benefit the community in a myriad of ways — from improved environmental and municipal infrastructure to increased recreation opportunities and revenue. City Council member Chris Nichols acknowledged past whispers of controversy surrounding the park’s inception, with opposition mostly due to its limited seasonal usage, but contended that the Yampa River is currently an underutilized asset for the community.

Memorial Regional Health CEO Jennifer Riley doubled-down on the benefits the park could provide to current and future residents alike, sharing that one of the questions frequently asked by prospective employees is, “what is there to do in rural northwest Colorado?” While hunting frequently tops that list, it never hurts to cultivate additional recreational opportunities.

With an optimistic projected opening date of 2025, Kilpatrick calls the project is “a massive win for Moffat County and the city of Craig” and expects that it will be an invaluable recreational resource for residents and visitors alike.