From Coal to Surfing: Craig, CO, Gets $3.3 Million EDA Grant for River Park Project

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With the Yampa River running through town, Craig, Colo., is going about making its transition from coal to river recreation as a driving force for its economy.

With its coal-fired power plant, owned by Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, scheduled to close its three units by 2028—Unit 1 in 2025, Unit 2 in 2026 and Unit 3 in 2028—ending a more than 40-year energy and water-use era, the city is looking to alternatives to replace that tax revenue and employment. Throw in the closing of the nearby Trappers Mine, which supplies the power plant with its coal, and the economic hit grows.

Enter the Yampa River and the U.S. Department of Commerce to the, at least, partial rescue.

Craig Loudy Simpson Whitewater Park
A conceptual image of Craig’s new Loudy Simpson Whitewater Park.

In August, the city of Craig was awarded a $3.3 million EDA Assistance to Coal Communities Grant, which will support the construction of the Yampa River Corridor Project (YRCP). The project will improve the city’s riverside Loudy Simpson Park, adding a new concrete boat ramp, access road and parking area, as well as improvements at the existing diversion dam site including a whitewater park, access road, parking area and park amenities. The whitewater park, benefitting in summer-long flow from the added water from the Elk River upstream, is being designed by Durango, Colo.’s Riverwise Engineering.

The official award announcement from the U.S. Department of Commerce comes after almost two years of planning and working through the federal grant process. The YRCP supports economic stimulus, resilience and diversification for Craig and Moffat County, says the city’s Melanie Kilpatrick, crediting a wealth of projecet partners and supports in making the river park a reality. In addition to contributing new recreation opportunities identified throughout multiple strategic planning documents, the project will sustain the city’s municipal water supply, create a multiuse park, and create enhanced aquatic/riparian habitat and fish habitat, she adds.

“The City of Craig and the project stakeholders are excited for the new park,” says Riverwise’s Shane Sigle. “Riverwise Engineering is proud to be consulting on this groundbreaking project for this community, which has been significantly impacted by the recent on-going economic changes in the area. The park will boast two recreational features that create safe navigational passage and whitewater designed to create both river stewardship and enjoyment for park users that should range from high level whitewater enthusiasts, to avid fisherpersons, to those wishing to simply walk next to the river and enjoy the rushing water, birds, and wildlife that frequent the area.”

Return on investment

The total project, occurring on 420 linear feet of the Yampa River in Moffat County, about 1.5 miles outside the central business district of the city, is estimated to cost $4.6 million, with the remainder coming from matching funds, private support and more. Once completed, the project will help create new job opportunities to boost economic development throughout the region. Its anticipated impact/outcome is estimated to create 129 jobs and $16.3 million in private investment leveraged.

“This EDA investment supports construction of a multi-use park and river access corridor with attractive natural assets and an instream recreational whitewater boating feature,” reads the grant award. “The project will increase economic diversification, vitality, and resiliency in the rural northwestern region of Colorado, an area economically heavily reliant on and affected by the coal economy and its recent and anticipated future downturns, by providing new opportunities for outdoor recreation-based businesses in the region.”

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