Longmont Officials, Kayaking Enthusiasts Eager for Opening of Nature Area
Anticipation more than 15 years in the making will give way to adrenaline come spring when a new water park meant for kayaking and tubing opens at Dickens Farm Nature Area.
The new 52-acre nature area also will bring Longmont its first true access point to the St. Vrain River from a public park or open space.
“I find that exciting. People like to touch the water, play and fish in the water,” Longmont Senior Project Manager Steve Ransweiler said. “I think the other areas we’ve developed along the river just didn’t have this type of (access) feature.”
City officials in 2001 asked, through a Colorado water court, for the right to designate for recreational use water in the area south of the newly paved Boston Avenue and north of the Harvest Junction shopping center between Main and Martin streets. Conditional approval was granted in 2004.
But as designs for Dickens Farm were about to be finalized in 2013 , major flooding of the St. Vrain in September of that year delayed the start of the work.
Area kayaking enthusiasts such as Amy Johnson, a Lyons resident and Longmont-based doctor, have grown anxious awaiting the opening of Dickens Farm, named for the Dickens family that was early to settle in Longmont and homesteaded the land.
“We’ve been watching it for a long time,” said Johnson, whose daughter kayaks competitively. “It takes Longmont to the next level where there are places (on the St. Vrain) for people to go.”
The flood — which swelled streams throughout Northern Colorado and caused billions of dollars worth of damage — also shifted the St. Vrain’s channel in the proposed Dickens Farm area, forcing plans for the recreational kayak and tubing course to be reconfigured.
Previously, the city planned to divert water into a channel from the St. Vrain upstream of the former Bonus Ditch diversion. The flood destroyed the Bonus Ditch diversion structure, however, and the river’s channel essentially moved to where the city had planned to take it.
A series of nine drop structures that will start from a river access point just east of Main Street off the St. Vrain Greenway trail, along with rock structures in the stream will be the obstacles for kayakers and tubers to navigate, but officials decided to not name the water park “Whitewater Heaven,” as they had planned to before the flood.
“We just don’t have the gradient to create whitewater,” Ransweiler said. “During higher flows, the water could be rushing pretty good.”
Boulder-based Recreation Engineering and Planning, which designs whitewater parks across the country, was picked to create the Dickens Farm water course. The in-channel work in the river was completed earlier this year, but work on the surrounding natural area — which will include two wetlands, a novice bike skills park, an art installation along a path off the St. Vrain Greenway and a parking lot — will begin later this year and continue through spring 2019.
“I think we’re going to see this as a very popular area, for residents and for visitors. I can’t imagine how much fun it’s going to be,” Longmont Public Works and Natural Resources spokeswoman Jennifer Loper said.
Right now the area if off limits,though. The public is still barred from entering the stretch of the St. Vrain upstream from the South Pratt Parkway replacement bridge to east of Martin Street because of ongoing Resilient St. Vrain project work that aims to shrink the river’s floodplain.
The Resilient St. Vrain work through the stretch of the river that includes the water park cost $12.8 million, which includes the water park and all river improvements.
Officials hope to have the entire Dickens Farm area open by June. When it does, river and recreation enthusiasts will be asked to keep their dogs out of the water and on-leash.
It is against Longmont municipal code to have a dog off-leash in a public area, but Ransweiler said a plan has not yet been made to discourage river-goers from letting their dogs play in the water.
“We’re going to be working hard to prevent that because of the sensitive fish in the area that we work hard to try and support, as well as the vegetation around the river,” Ransweiler said. ”... I think not just this project, but the entire Resilient St. Vrain project is having us look at how we treat the river. We value the St. Vrain, but we used to value it as a corridor for the (St. Vrain Greenway) trail. Now we value it for the trail as well as the waterway and the wildlife habitat it creates.”
Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, email@example.com and twitter.com/samlounz .