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FILE PHOTO: A spectator watches kayakers on the whitewater course on the Cedar River in Charles City. The course opened in July 2011. (JEFF HEINZ / Courier Lee News Photo)

CHARLES CITY --- Hundreds of spectators turned out Saturday for a ceremonial opening of the city's $1.1 million WhiteWater Park, the first of its kind in the state.

"I feel we truly made Charles City a better place to live with our project," said Bob Kloberdanz, chairman of the park board.

The project converted a low-head dam on the Cedar River into an attraction for paddlers and tubers.

Roger Lande, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the course has already inspired other communities to consider similar concepts.

"People are flocking to the river. Stores are running out of inner tubes," Lande said.

As spectators cheered or watched from the Brantingham Street bridge, a raft carrying city officials broke an orange streamer stretched across the river, a new take on a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

A flotilla of kayaks, inner tubes and other flotation devices followed, floating through the waves. Many tipped but quickly righted themselves.

Shane Sigle of Boulder, Colo., a consultant, designed the course. AHTS Architects in Waterloo assisted on the project.

According to Sigle, the Cedar River provides plenty of water and gradient for a white-water course.

"If you build it, they will come," he said. "These things are magnets for activity."

John Shultz, 27, of Greene, is a kayaker. He got into the sport while living in Washington state.

WhiteWater Park has already improved his skills, Shultz said.

"This is going to be the mecca of the Midwest," he said, heading upstream for another go.

WhiteWater Park also features a new boat ramp, an amphitheater, playground, concrete labyrinth and a Frisbee golf course.

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