Since the River Park at Las Colonias now under construction is intended as a true collective asset — it’s not a raging whitewater course on some far-flung stretch of river, where only ardent and expert paddlers could realize the benefits — it certainly fits the community bill.
“Having done these projects for years around the country, you always think, what makes them popular, what makes them successful, what are all the ingredients that go into these?” Lacy said. “And location is extremely important.”
Even though previous efforts targeted other Grand Valley locations — Lacy still has concept drawings for projects that never got off the ground in Palisade and Fruita — he knew Las Colonias, where the city’s activation of the former uranium-tainted riverfront is front and center, is the right spot.
“I kept going, no, this Las Colonias thing — right there — and it’s developing, and it’s near downtown,” [Gary] Lacy recalled. “In the big scheme, all things being equal … that’s the best location.”
“You need infrastructure, and you need parking and restrooms. You need, ideally, restaurants — everybody gets hungry and thirsty and (wants to) get a beer and all that stuff,” he said.
“So in the heart of communities is by far the best.”
As Lacy puts it, river parks need two things — water and gradient. In the case of Las Colonias, you’ve got the biggest river in the state in the Colorado, and surveyors found that there was just enough gradient “for a good project,” Lacy said.
“We’re not talking world-class whitewater, but to be honest, you look back at the most successful ones, they (don’t have) the big, pounding whitewater that’s intimidating. Rivers and projects are for everyone,” he said. “I mean everyone, from a ducky to kayakers to stand-up boarders, or just people reading a book or having lunch along the river.”
“Those are the successful (projects), not the ones just for the 2% that are surfing,” he summarized…
TURNING TOWARD THE RIVER
It turns out lots of Gary Lacy’s projects are personal.
The office of his Boulder-based company, Recreation Engineering and Planning, fronts the whitewater park on Boulder Creek that he built in the ’80s.
The company is in the middle of a multiyear project to improve the river park in Salida, where his dad raced some of the first fiberglass boats in the ’40s and ’50s.
The Clear Creek Whitewater Park in Golden goes right by Colorado School of Mines, where Lacy’s dad encouraged him to enroll to become an engineer. He discovered his passion for civic and hydraulic engineering there, and built a unique-for-the-time business that initially focused on bike path construction a short time after.
A quick glance of the REP project list also includes Colorado river parks in Montrose, Buena Vista, Lyons, Steamboat Springs, Vail, Pueblo, Longmont, Florence, Breckenridge, Gunnison and Durango…
Many of the company’s projects in other parts of the country — like in Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Ohio and Oregon, among other states — involve taking dangerous dams out to create amenities where they were once liabilities. It’s a theme that also includes the rehabilitation involved at the previously tainted Las Colonias.
“All these communities are now turning toward the river, instead of turning their backs to the river,” Lacy observed.