On any given day this summer along the Roaring Fork River, just upstream from downtown Basalt, you might spy kayakers or stand-up paddleboarders surfing two waves that weren’t there in years past. Sure, it’s exciting to spend a hot afternoon trying to stay upright on a wave, as the bracing water of the river rushes loudly past. But the origin of the valley’s newest aquatic playground actually lies in a far more practical concern: water rights.
The two artificial waves of the Healthy Rivers Whitewater Park were created by anchoring four large concrete blocks in the riverbed; the shape of the waves is then dictated by the angle and position of concrete caps placed atop the blocks. These features are classified as a recreational in-channel diversion, which gives Pitkin County the legal right to call for more water to be released from upstream reservoirs when the river runs low during the summer. Not only is it an important tool in keeping that water on this side of the Continental Divide, rather than potentially being diverted to the Front Range for urban use, but it benefits fish habitat and the riparian ecosystem. Another bonus: boulders brought in to create a riverside path for park users also shore up a severely eroded riverbank.
After this spring’s heavy runoff subsided, the water features, which span the width of the river, became a quick and easy way for boaters, SUPers, and even tubers or boogie boarders to surf and play. Think of it as a lower-stakes introduction to the rugged wave at the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park on the Colorado River, considered among the best in the country. And with the county water right now safely spoken for, those wave riders, whether they know it or not, are helping all of us here to go with the flow. basaltchamber.org