The initial plan for a whitewater park on the Yahara River could be complicated by state requirements and make the city ineligible for a grant.
That has led the Parks and Recreation commission to consider a second design that would not risk the grant. This means removing the Fourth Street dam in its entirety, which would also eliminate some of the park’s key amenities.
The whitewater park plan, designed by Colorado-based Recreation Engineering and Planning, is envisioned as part of the long-term redevelopment of Stoughton’s downtown waterfront, designed to provide recreation opportunities for visitors for around the region.
The initial concept would install rapids and other water elements to allow paddlers and surfers to navigate multiple drops and a surfing wave on a roughly 1,000-foot stretch of the Yahara River. Those would make the park the only one of its kind in the Midwest, director of parks and recreation Dan Glynn told the Hub on Nov. 22.
However, most of those functions are dependent on keeping part of the dam at Fourth Street in place, which could make the park ineligible for a $400,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which the city had planned to apply for.
At the Nov. 19 Parks and Recreation meeting, Glynn explained the grant would be used to remove the dam. He said the DNR has indicated the grant is intended for the removal of entire dams.
Glynn said Gary Lacey, the engineer at Recreation Engineering and Planning responsible for the project, could create an alternate plan that removed the entire dam. However, it would eliminate the surfing wave, leaving just one drop in the rapids upstream of the dam.
During the meeting, commissioners agreed the plan with multiple drops and a surfing wave was preferable and discussed whether there might be any flexibility in the DNR’s policy. Glynn told the Hub by phone Friday he had asked the city attorney to contact the DNR about this question.
Because the grant is competitive, there is no guarantee the city would receive it even if it were to change its plans for the dam. The city missed out on a $1 million grant package last year, including the dam removal, last year.
Glynn told the Hub there could be other opportunities available, such as a DNR stewardship program for recreation, which might cover up to 50 percent of the funding for the park.
An economic impact study found the park would net $2 million per year if every paddler within a half hour’s drive visited the park once.
Glynn said the addition of the surfing wave would make the park a bigger draw for visitors from surrounding areas, ultimately creating more of a return on the city’s investment.
“It’s a huge win for the city,” said Glynn.