Epic Rebirth

'Embracing the river' awaits money and details

Kayak launch, whitewater park, greenways among the ideas for the Cedar

Water from the flooding Cedar River pools in the McGrath Amphitheatre on the west bank of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Water from the flooding Cedar River pools in the McGrath Amphitheatre on the west bank of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids doctor and kayaking enthusiast, thinks it’s time Cedar Rapids considered a whitewater park in downtown Cedar Rapids.

It fits with the vision of embracing the Cedar River, making Cedar Rapids a destination, and improving quality of life for residents, said Ryan Sundermann, a doctor at UnityPoint-St. Luke’s Hospital and an investor in SOKO Outfitters.

He’s also for removing the low-head dam on the river — making the river safer for kayaking and also opening it up for perhaps a whitewater park.

Such a course would draw visitors as do the ones in Charles City or Manchester, create opportunities for sporting events and provide an amenity to help employers attract and retain talent, he said.

Embracing the river and developing 130 acres of greenways alongside it, have been focal points in post-2008 flood Cedar Rapids.

Past plans have envisioned high-ropes adventure courses, ice trails, wheels parks and athletic fields.

The latest downtown vision plan suggests a waterway canal from Cedar Lake to the Cedar River, removing the 5-in-1 Dam, and continuing to incorporate the river into flood control.

NO SOLID PLANS

While some progress has been made on embracing the river, such as the construction of McGrath Amphitheatre with the river as a backdrop, much work remains to bring plans to life.

The city’s ambitious 2014 greenway plan would turn large swathes of former neighborhoods leveled by the 2008 flood into sprawling parks. It would include three parks: a 40-acre Czech Village Park, a 72-acre Time Check Park, and a 22-acre Riverfront Park in Kingston Village. The Riverside Roundhouse would be rebuilt in Czech Village Park.

At this point, the greenway plan is in limbo, awaiting details and the final plan for flood control along the river.

KAYAK LAUNCH

The Cedar Rapids Parks Foundation is expected to play a key role in fundraising to bring the vision to life.

Jackie Thompson-Oster, president of the foundation, said the whitewater course is on their radar but cautioned against banking on it just yet.

“This may be a great idea for the community, but first we have to figure out if there is support and if it is feasible,” she said. “A lot has to go on before saying we can just do it.”

Thompson-Oster’s first fundraising priority when it comes to the river is the kayak launch planned at a bend in the Cedar near Mount Trashmore.

The kayak launch is expected to cost $450,000 to $500,000 and include a dock accessible for those with disabilities, a pavilion and parking lot. SOKO is expected to offer kayak rentals beginning next spring.

“To me it is very doable,” Thompson-Oster said. “I’m optimistic we can, next summer and fall, hopefully get that put in.”

The city has already allocated $200,000 in fiscal 2019 for upgrades on the west side of the river, with the majority going to the kayak launch, while private dollars are expected to pay for the rest.

IT’LL BE A WHILE

Embracing the Cedar River was a priority before the 2008 flood. In fact, 2008 was supposed to be the “year of the river” in Cedar Rapids.

Since the flood, dozens of downtown housing units have been built overlooking the waterway. Riverfront parks and trails in Kingston Village have been spruced up.

Other less glamorous work also has occurred, such as removing remnants of former streets and other infrastructure in the greenways along the river.

Before anything major happens, though, the greenway plan, created by a consultant and approved by the City Council in 2014, needs to be updated to account for the flood control master plan, which the City Council approved in 2015 and updated in 2016.

Second, flood control needs to be in place. And third, private fundraising and public allocations are needed.

The greenway plan is projected to take 15 to 20 years to complete and cost up to $93 million.

“We don’t have a concrete list of this is what is going to go in and this is where it is going to go in,” said Gail Loskill, spokeswoman for the city Parks and Recreation Department.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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