Like rivers merging to optimize their power heading downstream, Lyons, Colo. whitewater park design firm S2O Design & Engineering, headed by three-time Olympian Scott Shipley, has united with Highlands Ranch, Colo.’s Calibre Engineering, Inc. to expand their service capabilities and resources. Together, as part of the Calibre family, they’ll combine to provide full water resources design and engineering for whitewater parks, in- river engineering, swiftwater rescue training facilities, and stream restoration throughout the world.
“S2O has built a reputation for exceptional design and customer service in the whitewater space,” says S20 founder Shipley, whose most recent project was the grand opening of the new Montgomery Whitewater Course in Montgomery, Ala. “Our rapid growth and demand put us in the unique position of wanting to grow quickly in a sustainable way. Uniting with Calibre gives us additional resources and capacity to serve more clients and bring whitewater to even more communities across the globe.”
“Calibre is passionate about building an elite small business with a focus on exploration and environmental stewardship,” says Calibre president Gregory Murphy. “We have been longtime admirers of Scott and his work with S2O, particularly his focus on accessible water recreation and responsible waterway design and construction. Uniting with S2O gives us the ability to bring invigorating work to our staff and further our commitment to integrating rivers and waterways into communities.”
Shipley’s S20 is responsible for the lion’s share of recirculating whitewater parks in the country, as well as several overseas.
The Montgomery venue is the country’s fourth such recirculating whitewater park, revitalizing the downtown riverfront of the Alabama River into a revenue-generating, recreational hotbed. It joins McHenry, Md.’s Wisp Whitewater—as well as Oklahoma City’s Riversports Rapids and Charlotte, N.C.’s US National Whitewater Center, also both designed by Shipley—as well as a host of similar courses built worldwide for Olympic competitions, from London and Sydney to China and Brazil.
“These parks are becoming event and activity hubs and the focal point of their communities,” says Scott Shipley, a three-time slalom kayak Olympian whose firm, S2O Design and Engineering, has designed the majority of these recirculating rivers. “They turn often under-utilized urban areas into true recreational amenities that are fun for the whole family. Millennials want to have an adventure on their vacation, and parks like these make that possible.”
Many parks even boast adjustable features (such as Shipley’s RapidBlocs), letting waves be fine-tuned for everything from slalom to surfing. Throw in other activities for guests like restaurants, stores, concert amphitheaters and bike paths and these river parks are becoming all the rage. “They bring rafting to the people and boost their local economies in the process,” adds Shipley, fresh back from Montgomery’s grand opening, where he was the first to sample its watery wares. “Instead of people having to spend money to travel to go rafting once a year, they can now do it after work. They help create a great quality of life for their communities.”
Calibre Engineering’s mission is to provide support, service, and exploration in civil, water resources, and structural engineering. Founded in 2000, their team has collaborated on prominent projects across the country in the private, public, and federal sectors. They are passionate about integrating rivers and nature into communities in a tangible way. With offices in Colorado, California, and North Carolina, the firm has supported more than $1.5 billion in development and infrastructure design and construction. (Learn more at www.calibre-engineering.com.)
U.S. Recirculating Whitewater Park Roundup
Montgomery Whitewater: Montgomery, AL
Holding its grand opening in July in downtown Montgomery, Ala., Montgomery Whitewater is the nation’s newest recirculating whitewater park, bringing a series of pool-drop rapids to the heart of Dixie. Designed to revitalize and re-energize the downtown riverfront of the Alabama River along the I-65 corridor, the park “is the best whitewater park in the world,” says designer Shipley of S2O Designs. He credits this to its massive campus, lessons learned from the country’s earlier whitewater parks, and an array of such other outdoor activities as climbing areas, ziplines, ropes courses, and trails for hiking and biking.
The park’s recirculating whitewater course also flows among restaurants, shops, a beer garden, a concert venue, hotel and conference center and more. Anchoring the 120-acre park is its state-of-the-art, Olympic-rated whitewater course, with everything from an easy, rec-friendly channel for unguided rafting and tubing to a freestyle feature, splash-filled commercial rafting channel and higher-level competition venue. “We took the best parts from all the other parks and put them into this one,” says Shipley. “It’s bringing a new vibrancy and economic development to Montgomery County and is a venue truly changing the area’s quality of life, both for local residents and visitors and even companies looking to move there.” https://montgomerywhitewater.com
U.S. National Whitewater Center: Charlotte, NC
Billed as the world’s largest and most profitable whitewater park, with over 1 million visitors per year, the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., is a nonprofit committed to facilitating access to the outdoors. As well as harboring a world-class whitewater course, it’s an outdoor activity and event center offering more than 30 different recreational activities housed within its 1,300 acres of protected land—including 50 miles of trails and access to the Catawba River. Opening in November 2006 as the first such park in the country, its crown jewel is its whitewater park, with its various channel systems totaling 4,570 feet in length. The water comes from a 12-million-gallon reservoir and seven massive pumps, each one capable of filling up an Olympic-sized swimming pool every 12 seconds.
The “river” serves up four distinct sections of whitewater, including channels for instruction, freestyle, wilderness, and competition, all comprised of Class II-IV whitewater. Its “wilderness” section—which features standing waves, holes and eddy lines before splitting into instructional and freestyle channels—is by far its most popular, drawing more than 250,000 commercial rafters per year. “Rafting is definitely the facility’s number one activity as far as guest engagement,” says brand director Jesse Hyde, adding its annual Tuck Fest draws thousands of attendees and includes seven different paddling events. The center’s 984-foot competition channel has hosted World Cup slalom races and is vying to host the Olympic Team Trials next year. “Instead of making it an Olympic-level park that caters to rafters, it’s rafting park that also caters to Olympic-level competition,” says course designer Shipley. “It’s a true outdoor adventure center right in the center of town.”
Riversports Rapids: Oklahoma City, OK
Opening in 2016, the $45 million Oklahoma Whitewater Center, known as Riversport Rapids, brings rollicking whitewater to downtown Oklahoma City. Located adjacent to the Oklahoma River, which offers competitive and recreational flatwater activities, the 11-acre course features the world’s highest-volume, pumped channel in the world, running at 1,200 to 1,400 cubic feet per second at full capacity. “It builds off of the lessons we learned from the earlier U.S. National Whitewater Center,” says park designer Shipley. “We tried to include something for everyone, with kids play areas, a concert stage, a paddle-in movie theater, an Olympic-standard course, a recreational course and a game-changing freestyle feature.”
Six pumps—which together could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in 80 seconds—recirculate 8 million gallons of treated water through two channels to create Class II-IV rapids, with flows adjustable to offer various experiences on a venue designed to provide Olympic-standard whitewater but also a place for everyone to enjoy, beginner to expert. Built in the city’s Boathouse District as part of a one-cent sales tax initiative to enhance the local quality of life, the park offers commercial and private rafting, tubing and kayaking, as well as flatwater paddling and rowing on the adjacent Oklahoma River. Other activities include surfing, adventure courses, zip lines, high speed slides, extreme jumping, climbing walls, sailing, a bike park and skills trail, nature center, and, new in 2001, an indoor alpine skiing venue. Open daily throughout summer and on weekends in spring and fall, it hosts festivals, race events and even summer camps for kids. The venue is also the official U.S. Olympic Committee Training Site for paddlesports, with a world-championship caliber sprint kayak and rowing course, Olympic-level whitewater slalom course, and high-performance elite athlete training center. www.riversportokc.org
Wisp Resort Whitewater Course, McHenry, MD
Opening in 2007 and designed by McLaughlin Whitewater—architects of Tennessee’s Ocoee Whitewater Center, host of the whitewater events for the 1996 Summer Olympics—the Wisp Resort Whitewater Course is an Olympic-standard whitewater center located on the mountaintop above the Wisp Ski Resort at Deep Creek Lake in McHenry, Md. Since the ski operation already had a mountaintop reservoir for its snowmaking machines, it sited the course next to it to make use of its water in the summer. Its four electric pumps can pump 650 cubic feet per second down a 1,900-foot-long, wave-filled gauntlet of whitewater serving everything from Class II-III to surging Class IV. While the first 100 yards are the steepest and narrowest, the last 300 yards follow more of a pool-drop format, complete with a practice area with an easy put-in and take-out on either shore. Inflatable bladders called “wave shapers” can also reconfigure certain waves so they’re better for kayak slalom training and events or rafting operations. It’s the latter that’s most popular, drawing splashhounds region-wide throughout the summer. “Our rafting operations are extremely popular with beginner rafters and families,” says Wisp’s Lori Zaloga, adding their guided raft trips let you fit in as many laps in a self-bailing, six-person raft as you can in 90 minutes. “The course is also ideal for spectating so mom, dad and the grandparents can watch from the riverside.” Hint: Since the water comes from Deep Creek Lake—the same source feeding the nearby Upper Youghiogheny River—it can be refreshingly cold; wear appropriate attire for the splashes. www.wispresort.com
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