SKOWHEGAN — A $50,000 infusion of cash into the planned $5.2 million Run of River white water recreation park in downtown Skowhegan and inclusion of the town as an Outdoor Sports Institute community partner couldn’t have come at a better time.

The annual River Fest, a showcase for the park project, gets under way Wednesday, and the new funding comes as a boost to the proposed project that is gaining momentum after more than a decade of planning, said Kristina Cannon, executive director at Main Street Skowhegan.

Cannon said the project has been promised $25,000 from the Quimby Family Foundation and a matching $25,000 from the Maine Community Foundation’s donor advised fund, as well as another $15,000 donated last year for the study of the river bottom en route to permitting.

“This announcement comes at a perfect time — leading up to River Fest,” Cannon said Monday. “Because River Fest is the event in Skowhegan that showcases the potential for Run of River and celebrates life on the water. Great timing.”

The $50,000 is to be used for “next step” additions to the white water plan, which calls for the creation of white water waves at man-made structures in three locations along the Kennebec River to attract boaters for a park-and-play destination, waves for surfers and body boarders and an 1,800-foot run for rafting and kayaking.

The project also would improve physical and visual access to the gorge by creating two footpaths down to the river and terraced seating along the shore.

Planning began for the park in 2004 and local officials finally saw a digital model of the park in February 2014.

An economic impact study released in 2016 predicted the project could generate $6 million in revenue and 43 new local jobs in just the first year of operation.

The study, released by Planning Decisions Inc. of Hallowell in conjunction with Main Street Skowhegan, notes the project, with its man-made bumps and white-water rapids could also produce as much as $19 million and as many as 136 local jobs in its 10th year of operation.

The “play park” for paddling, canoeing, kayaking and tubing, with added four-season amenities of trails, competitions and spectator posts along the river route, also would generate an estimated $155,000 in new tax revenues from increased property values in the first year and more than $200,000 in added state income- and sales-tax revenues, according to the study.

All that is being celebrated with the five-day River Fest, which takes off at 11 a.m. Wednesday with a Lions Club chicken barbecue under the big top in the downtown parking lot. A classic car cruise-in is scheduled to follow, with another chicken barbecue at 5 p.m., a performance of the Skowhegan Community Band at 5:30 and a guided bike ride on new Coburn Woods trails on Russell Road, ending with karaoke at Bloomfield’s Tavern 8-10 p.m.

Thursday night is Moonlight Madness, hosted from 5:30-10 p.m. by the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce, featuring the madcap bed races down Water Street at 7 p.m., kids’ activities provided by the Skowhegan Parks & Rec Department, live music and “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at 8 p.m. at Lakewood Theater.

On Friday, the festivities continue with a day-long lobster feed put on by the Skowhegan Rotary Club starting at 11 a.m. under the big top, a golf classic at noon at Lakewood, a book talk with author R. Wesley Clement 3-5 p.m. at the library, more live music and the popular glow stick river run at 8:30 p.m. at the Route 2 rest area east of downtown.

There will be free raft rides down the river provided by Moxie Outdoor Adventures starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, family fun in the municipal parking lot, a craft fair and a guided paddle down Wesserunsett Stream from 10 a.m. to noon hosted by Somerset Woods Trustees. There will be more live music and dinner in Coburn Park, under the stars and the fireworks from the Great Eddy at 9 p.m.

Cannon said they have raised $65,000 for Run of River in the last year, and the town has $1.4 million in a reserve account for the project, so that means they still need to raise $3.8 million for the whitewater park.

“We need to have three, computer-generated, 3D hydraulic models in order for it to even be looked at by the permitting agencies,” she said.

An $80,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture rural business opportunity grant was used to complete engineering on a digital model of the park, a requirement for the many permits the park will need. The model will have to pass scrutiny of the permitting agencies, including the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The state’s Indian tribes and Maine historic preservation groups also will weigh in on the project.

After the permitting, bidding for the work will follow, then construction. The goal is to begin construction in the summer of 2021, when Brookfield Renewable power company plans to lower the river for construction of a fish passage ladder.

Cannon said being named as an Outdoor Sports Institute community partner is an important step to drawing in local residents who might not otherwise be attracted to paddling down the river.

“We want to create a group of outdoor recreation enthusiasts in Skowhegan,” she said. “That means we’re going to host some trainings so people can learn how to roll a white water kayak, for instance, or to learn how to mountain bike. OSI is going to provide us with gear and we’re going to make these trainings free of charge to the local community members to use the Run of River white water recreation area.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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