Whitewater Park expansion opening delayed a second time due to unsafe wave conditions

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You’re going to have to wait a while longer to catch a monster wave at Boise’s whitewater park. 

Boise Parks and Recreation had high hopes for its new $11 million expansion to the Boise Whitewater Park near Esther Simplot Park when it opened to the public in the summer of 2019. But, two and a half years later the biggest wave is still not deemed safe for surfers and kayakers, requiring a second big adjustment and a new contractor. 

[Boise looks at changes to plan for E. Boise park as construction costs rise]

Doug Holloway, Boise’s Parks and Recreation director, told BoiseDev efforts to get the bigger, badder wave up and running have not been successful. Despite the city and its contractor’s best efforts, the wave is not safe for users. He expects the park to be open next summer, or by 2023 at the latest if supply chain issues persist. 

“It creates a tailwater, which is a washing machine effect,” Holloway said. “So, if you come off the wave you will hit that tailwater and it sucks you under and won’t let you come up. Any of the modifications that have been done have not corrected that.”

The city is refusing to sign off on the project with contractor McMillen Jacobs Association until the wave is safe to ride. This means taxpayers will not pay any additional cost for the extra work being completed and the company is not incurring any fines. 

A growing wave-riding complex

Boise got into the wave business in 2012. 

The city constructed the first phase of its whitewater park in 2011 and opened it to the public the next year, offering a small wave suitable for kayakers, surfers and now boogie boarders to ride on alternating days. The wave is fully adjustable depending on the flows of the river and attracts users of all skill levels. 

Holloway said the hope with the second phase of the whitewater park was to build a larger, more technical wave suitable for more advanced riders. The original plan was for a machine to power the wave at 900 cubic feet per second, making it one of the most powerful synthetic waves in the United States. It also features two smaller waves suitable for beginnings and a terraced seating area along the water for people to watch the wave riding action. 

Over the winter in 2020, crews from McMillen Jacobs Associates went into the Boise river bed while it was dry and made some modifications to the wave, hoping to lower the intensity of the water flow and create a stable wave. Holloway said this didn’t work, so it’s back to the drawing board. 

‘Just not achievable’

This time, McMillen Jacobs Associates hired back the same firm that designed phase one of the park, McLaughlin Design Group, to build a totally new wave with a similar design as the first section of the park, only on a bigger scale. Holloway said he didn’t want to “over promise and under deliver,” but he hopes the safe, redesigned wave will be ready by 2022. If supplies are difficult to get, it will be ready for riding in 2023. 

“I think what we were originally planning is just not achievable. Even if we wanted to get a more technical wave, the trade-off would be to have probably at a large portion of the wave it could be unsafe. That isn’t what we want to have at a whitewater park that is safe for all users.”

Holloway said the expanded park is set up for competitions to happen, but at this point Parks and Rec hasn’t had the time to work through the logistics to bring a large scale surge or kayak competition to Boise. 

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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