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WATERLOO | A $2.6 million white-water park and kayak course, accessible to the general public, has been proposed along the east bank of the Cedar River in downtown Waterloo.

An engineering firm retained by the downtown Waterloo Development Corp. unveiled the proposal to city officials and business leaders at a meeting this week.

A time frame and funding sources have not been identified. Numerous governmental approvals will be required. But Waterloo Mayor Buck Clark, who is not seeking re-election, said the project will be a priority for the remainder of his term in office.

"I hope nobody leaves this room without being excited about this project," Clark said. "My attitude is this is going to happen. ... What I don't want to happen is the momentum that this meeting has generated to stop.

"We've got a lot of challenges," Clark said. "I hope there's unanimous agreement this is a great project. It's the next big thing for downtown Waterloo, and we just have to go forward."

The proposal basically calls for the course to be developed along an 80-foot-wide strip along the east side of the river between the Park Avenue and Fifth Street bridges.

It would be "a river within a river," said Shane Siegel of Recreation Engineering and Planning of Boulder, Colo., the same firm that developed white-water courses in Manchester, Charles City and elsewhere around the country.

And the park would not be only for white-water and kayak enthusiasts but for the general public to enjoy, providing another recreational attraction for downtown Waterloo, proponents and city officials said. The course would be open to tubing and various sorts of nonmotorized personal craft or floats.

The proposal calls for access points and landscaped areas for the general public to walk and picnic along the river -- one major point being near existing Paramount Park. AHTS Architects of Waterloo is working in conjunction with the Boulder firm on shoreline landscaping design.

The project would be engineered to maximize safety for everyone using the park, in and out of the water, said Siegel and Waterloo firefighter and longtime white-water enthusiast Ty Graham, who worked with Recreation Engineering in developing the Charles City and Manchester white-water courses.

It also would be designed so river levels would be maintained for recreational boating upstream and to meet state and federal regulatory standards.

The course would be started upstream from the former Iowa Public Service Co. dam between the Park Avenue and Fourth Street bridges. The steep dropoff there would be leveled out over the course of the whitewater run. The inflatable bladder, installed atop that dam several years ago to raise the upstream river level for recreational boating, would not be disturbed.

Former Waterloo Mayor Tim Hurley, in office at the time dam improvements were made, said an 80-foot section of the dam from the east bank of the river to the first pier was not improved to the extent the rest of the dam was in anticipation of a white-water course.

That section of the dam, which the river rolls over at a faster pace than the rest of the structure, is the most dangerous section of that dam. The white-water course would relieve that hazard greatly, Graham and other project proponents said.

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, suggested state funding for the project may be possible through the Community Attraction and Tourism grant program, among others.

Local sources might include the Black Hawk County Gaming Association, which allocates a portion of Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo revenue for community projects. Private fundraising is also a possibility. Clark said it is his wish to use as little city money as possible.

Consultants indicated a wing dam downstream from the project may have to be removed for safety reasons, but Waterloo City Council member Pat Morrissey suggested it be incorporated into the course, as it is a popular fishing spot. The project would include the creation of additional fish habitat over time.

Cedar Falls project

Proponents said the Waterloo project would complement a similar one contemplated in Cedar Falls.

Cedar Falls Community Development Director Ron Gaines said that community is looking at safety improvements to the dam near the Ice House Museum, shoreline improvements on the northeast side of the river and a "play and paddle" park.

Cedar Falls has retained the AECOM engineering firm of Waterloo regarding those projects, Gaines said, and will be sending out requests for design proposals.

Gaines said Recreation Engineering and Planning will be one of the firms from which a proposal will be sought. He noted Cedar Falls officials recently visited the Manchester white-water park the company worked on.

While Cedar Falls is concentrating right now on obtaining federal approvals for raising its downtown flood control levee, nearly topped in the 2008 flood, Gaines said the paddle park and other river improvements are "not far behind" in priority.

Correction (7/30/15): This article was corrected to identify the location of AHTS Architects.

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