Water dreams

Oroville looks to whitewater

Most of the year, the Feather River flows tranquilly through Oroville. If backers of a proposed whitewater park have their way, though, that could all change.

Such a park would increase the river’s size significantly and create a new play area for tubers and kayakers, while making life better for the river’s salmon, as well.

The proposal has just entered the feasibility study phase, and it will be some time before a park is built, if ever. But Dave Steindorf, director of the American Whitewater California Stewardship, is already making his list of who could benefit and who would use the park.

Organizations and agencies from the Butte County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue squad, the city of Oroville, Feather River Parks and Recreation District, Butte County itself and Adventure Outings from Chico State all could use this kind of park, Steindorf said.

Exactly how much use they will make of it would depend on where it is located and how large it is.

“Oroville has a unique opportunity,” Steindorf said. “Typically when you’re building something like this, someone has a site in mind. In Oroville, there are at least five sites we’ve identified.”

Now the project is in triage effort to figure out which locations would be best and what kind of park to put in.

“If you build a park with a swing set and a slide, people from the local area will use it but not from the Bay Area,” Steindorf said. “If you build something more substantial, you’re more like Great America or Disneyland. You have people coming from all across the world.”

At the ambitious end, the project would create a channel moving more water than the South Fork of the American River, one of the most popular summer rafting locations in California.

Bob Sharkey, general manager of Feather River Recreation and Park District, sees the environmental benefits that come with the possibility of funding for salmon-friendly projects.

“To build it could cost 10 to 20 million dollars,” Sharkey said. “Having the environmental dollars to help pay is the way to make it economical.”

The whitewater channel would move warmer water out for recreational uses as well as for farming, while leaving the colder water for the fish. None of the water would be lost to other uses, Sharkey said.

The larger the park, the larger the tourist draw. The closest whitewater park is on the Truckee River in Reno; it moves 200 to 1,000 cubic feet of water a second. Most whitewater parks operate with between 500 and 600 cubic feet a second, Steindorf said.

The Oroville park could move up to 7,000 cubic feet a second. Steindorf and Sharkey both see the possibility of a world-wide destination.

“Every time I go to the Reno park, I’m amazed by it,” Sharkey said. “I think it’s something we can duplicate in Oroville.”