SKOWHEGAN — Selectmen this week released the final $20,000 from a federal grant to add two more whitewater features to the Run of River park on the Kennebec River through downtown.
The new man-made rapids will bring the total number of river challenges to five, project chairman Greg Dore said. The money is the final drawdown on an $80,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture rural business opportunity grant used to complete engineering on a digital model of the park, a requirement for the many permits the park will need to complete, which is the next step, Dore said.
The park is expected to cost $1.5 million to build. Construction could begin in the summer of 2014.
“The engineering company added more features — it makes more waves down the river,” Dore said Friday. “Originally it had just three features and that was it; we wanted more. If they find out in the modeling that they can, we will add one more feature at the end for a total of six.”
Dore said the project has been 10 years in the making. Other grants have been received over the years, including one for a trail on the south side of the river with scenic lookouts and river access, where whitewater enthusiasts will enter the river.
The computer model of the whitewater park will show how and where white water features created by man-made boulders or other in-water devices would be placed in the river to create challenging stretches for kayaks, canoes and tubes. The model has to be completed by February. Dore said the model will have to pass scrutiny of the various permitting agencies, including the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Native American tribes also will weight in on the project as will Maine historic preservation groups.
“We met with all these people before we first started and nobody said no,” Dore said.
The project also proposes to clean up the river, restore habitat, increase public access and improve hiking trails.
Dore said a whitewater park in Skowhegan will be an economic boost to the town and to the region.
“We’re a gateway to the north, where people go whitewater rafting,” he said. “That group of people would stop here; they could be up there for one day and they could come back here for one day, too. The economics of that attraction is what’s going to make Skowhegan much better.”
Dore said the park would begin a couple hundred feet down river from Skowhegan walking bridge, where the new Debe Park Trail meets the waterline on the south side of the river.
The park would be constructed all the way to the Great Eddy of the Kennebec River for a total of about 1,700 feet of water holes, ramps and tubes to make standing waves and rapids.
Dore said the Run of River committee will apply for additional grants to build the park and will conduct fundraisers. The town of Skowhegan also has raised money for the park, he said.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367