If you’re looking for a little adventure while keeping cool this summer, head to Manchester’s Whitewater Park, conveniently located in the heart of town.
You read that right: in the middle of Manchester, kids of all ages can jump in for some fun riding the rapids of the Maquoketa River. Whitewater Park, which first opened in June 2015, includes a man-made water course featuring six 18-inch river drops over the span of 800 feet.
I headed up with my kids, then ages 9 and 12, and a big group of friends for the first time in August 2017, and we kicked ourselves for not trying it earlier in the summer. One run down the rapids, and we were hooked.
Whitewater Park was developed after the Manchester Good to Great River and Recreation Committee was tasked with identifying ways to enhance the river and user experiences in the core of Manchester.
“Participants may use the river and Whitewater Park in any means that they prefer, including canoes, kayaks, stand up paddle boards, tubes, or even just doing a body float,” said Doug Foley, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Manchester.
We started our adventure by renting tubes and life jackets from The Water Shed, conveniently located just a few blocks from the park.
We couldn’t get our sunscreen on fast enough before the kids were wading out to the start of the course and laughing their way downstream.
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As a thrifty mom, I appreciated that both the park itself and parking are free. While Whitewater Park is open year-round, from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily, city officials said it is most crowded in the summer thanks to the warmer — but not necessarily warm — water temperatures.
New this summer will be a shelter with on-site restrooms and an outside shower for rinsing off. They will be welcome additions, because this is one summer activity that involves getting wet and dirty. Bring a change of clothes for the ride home. The city also plans to add paved parking and play amenities to the park.
Our group of friends had planned for nearly a whole day at the park, and we were glad we did. We packed picnic lunches and brought plenty of snacks for our hungry, active kids, who got in a lot of walking as they raced down the rapids again and again. My kids and their friends started out using their tubes before figuring out how fun it was to body float down the drops. We were entertained for hours on end.
When we needed a little break from the action, we walked along the adjacent paved path upstream a bit in order to float lazily down the river before hitting the rapids. While we didn’t do it this visit, you also can float farther down the river toward Bailey’s Ford Park.
“The park offers so many opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors, whether you are walking your dog along the trail, fishing, tubing, or enjoying a picnic lunch,” said city manager Tim Vick.
We’re definitely planning to head back more than once this summer. Of course we’ll enjoy the refreshing dip in the river, but we also plan to stop in Olive That Deli (210 S. Franklin St.) for a sandwich and to grab some ice cream from the old fashioned parlor at Widner Drug Store (111 S. Franklin St.). Grown-ups making the trip can grab a local brew at Franklin Street Brewing Co. (116 S. Franklin St.).
Not too far from downtown Manchester, visitors also will find activities to keep kids busy at the Manchester Fish Hatchery (22693 205th Ave.) or Backbone State Park (1347 129th St., Dundee).
Of course, while at Whitewater Park, there are safety measures to keep in mind.
“The Whitewater Park is unsupervised, and people use it at their own risk, so we strongly encourage the use of proper safety equipment,” Foley said. “The majority of the users are tubers, and we have a lot of people who just prefer to put on a personal flotation device like a life jacket and just float down the river and swim.”
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There are no age limits, although it will be hard for children under 7 to handle the tubes themselves. They would be best suited to ride the rapids with parents.
Hannah Ray J, a white-water enthusiast who served on the committee to create the park, also suggested wearing a helmet, along with sturdy water shoes to help protect feet from river rocks.
“Safety is so important, because it is a wild piece of water,” she said. “The Whitewater Park is very beginner friendly, but the water level does change throughout the summer, and it’s good to use caution.”
Visitors can bring along their own tubing and kayaking gear for the adventure. There are some local rental resources for buying and renting tubes, kayaks, canoes, personal flotation devices and helmets, including The Watershed (300 N. River St.; 563-920-5347), River Rec & More (121 S. Franklin St.; 563-608-1884) and Palmer Hardware (115 N. Franklin St.; 563-927-2518).
Plan your trip to Manchester
Looking for the perfect time to plan your Whitewater Park adventure? Check out these events happening along the Maquoketa River in the heart of Manchester this summer.
Rhubarb on the River Downtown Manchester, June 16
Visit vendors, try rhubarb brats, pie, ice cream and other samples and items in the Rhubarb Store. See demonstrations and learn safety techniques along the Whitewater Park rapids. This is a full day, family friendly event with something for everyone. A run and bike ride will kick off the morning.
Motorcycle Trials Whitewater Park, 218 W. Main St., August 11
Trials, or MotoTrials as the sport is known on the national level to distinguish it from its bicycle equivalent, test a rider’s ability to navigate a section of trail without putting down his or her feet, stalling the motorcycle or crashing. This free event will feature some of the nation’s top riders taking their specially designed, lightweight motorcycles over the limestone boulders along the Maquoketa River.
River Runner Regatta Cardboard Boat Races, September 1
Build your own Cardboard Boat and attempt to sail it down the river at Whitewater Park, or just stop by and watch the action. Whether the teams fail miserably or succeed triumphantly, entertainment is guaranteed.