Staff Writer
SKOWHEGAN — A long anticipated white water rafting and kayak park on the Kennebec River in downtown Skowhegan is back on track with federal money.
A $40,000 Rural Business Opportunity grant and an equal local match will pay for a engineered model of the park needed to proceed with permits on Run of River, according to Greg Dore, chairman of the eight-member organizing committee and Skowhegan Road Commissioner. He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant will finally open the door for construction of the park, expected by 2014.
“We have a river that goes right through downtown, which is a gold mine,” Dore said. “Kayaking and water sports, recreational outdoor adventuring is a growing tourist attraction in all of Maine. Skowhegan is the crossroads to get to anywhere up north; all those people come through Skowhegan, so we have a pretty good amount of people to draw from to get them to stop and shop and eat in Skowhegan.”
Dore said the project has been 10 years in the making. Grants have been received over the years, a trail was constructed on the south side of the river for scenic lookouts and river access, but a model of the park — either a computer animated one or an actual physical model is needed to get permits for construction.
“It was funding,” Dore said of the delay of getting a model. “We’re just now finding the money to pay for the modeling.”
The model would show just 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 boaters.
The project also proposes to clean up the river, restore habitat, increase public access and improve hiking trails.
Dore said the town already has the matching $40,000. Half of it was raised through private donations and the Maine Community Foundation over the past few years, he said. The rest of the matching grant has come from the Sappi tax increment financing district and from $10,000 from developer Joe Kruse as part of a contract extension with the town for his project at the former junior high school.
“What we’re envisioning is a series of different types of waves,” Dore said of the proposed park. “There are different types of structures you can put in to make that happen.”
Dore said the model project has to go out to bid, but there already are a couple of “boater park” companies who are qualified to develop one.
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.
Karen Hart, marketing officer and assistant vice president at Skowhegan Savings and public relations coordinator for Run of River, said completing a project of this scope takes a lot of time and effort.
“I think in terms of economic development for Skowhegan, this project is vital and will bring new businesses to the area,” Hart said. “It is great news that we can now go out for modeling bids — it has taken us a long time and a lot of hard work to get to this point. Hopefully, once this model is done, the viability of the project will be more realistic and obtaining further grants to finish the project will be easier.” 
The park would be set up to accommodate the average flow of the Kennebec River as it descends from the Wyman Hydroelectric Dam into the Kennebec Gorge. The river drops 11 feet in elevation over the course of that stretch, Dore said.
 Dore said the park would begin a couple hundred feet downriver 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 for intermediate level adventurers, not novices, he said.
Town Manager John Doucette Jr. said he is pleased with the project’s progress and the way it will fit into the work in downtown, Main Street Skowhegan and the new municipal parking lot.
“You’ll have places to park, you’ll have trails going down to the river and the boat landing. It’s going to bring economic development. People are going to come,” he said.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]

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