Although temperatures are starting to cool, there is a project that has been four years in the making that will allow Denver residents to enjoy some gnarly summer activities without having to throw together a last minute summer vacation. The first phase of the South Platte River Run project is open today, August 25, with the entire project slated for completion Summer of 2018. With plans for six total waves, two waves are now available to the public, along with trail usage, a playground, bike station, parking, bathrooms and a picnic area. Located near Broken Tee Golf Course in Sheridan off of West Oxford Avenue, the South Platte River Run project features pure waves–waves that are not foamy and white but clean and easier to surf.
We spoke with Ben Nielsen, who confirmed the opening of South Platte River Run. He is the engineer at Merrick & Company and has spearheaded this project alongside Arapahoe County. Nielsen, a California Polytechnic State University graduate who spent five years living in California learning to surf, was the perfect person for Arapahoe to tap for this restoration project. Nielsen first discovered a love for river surfing years ago when he encountered Jackson Hole’s Lunch Counter Wave. In 2012, Nielsen and his team created pure waves in a river restoration project in Boise, Idaho. Now, Boise is a prime river surfing location, with a wave setup that is only seen in 15 other places in the US. The surfing crowd in Boise has grown considerably with businesses popping up to support to the new trend. Needless to say, Arapahoe County is hoping Nielsen will be able to hit gold twice.
At first, the project originated as an infrastructure problem. The city realized that there was an opportunity to do more with this space than just work on flood protection.
“They recognized it could be done either one dimensionally or much broader, providing something great to the public while also fixing the initial need,” said Nielson.
Along with Arapahoe County, Nielsen had a vision to make it a unique park space, and that is when Nielsen’s previous expertise came into play.
The water features are not designed for any one user. Nielsen recognized the importance of reaching out to the community for their input. The decision was made to connect trailheads and create waves to accommodate nearly every water activity. These aren’t just for surfers and kayakers, or expert level participants at that. In the second phase of the project (to begin approximately in January of 2017 after more funding is received), there will be a half-mile of river restoration work, which will include a fish habitat, additional waves and water features, re-channeling and re-vegetation, and a mile of regional trail. Nielsen explained that lifeguards will not be in attendance and that it is crucial to remember that while the waves are man-made, this is a natural river with hazards and to be sure of your skill level when participating in the water features and always wear a helmet and lifejacket for your safety.
When asked about the effect that Denver growth will have on this project, for those who love the outdoors or not, Nielsen believes that this will be a project that everyone will love. Whether you’re from a coastal state, or you have lived inland your entire life, the South Platte River Run will accommodate any water lover or user. The machinery that is being built into the river bed will adjust according to the river conditions each day to provide consistent pure waves and water features. This means that any skill level can experience the waves, and any activity can take part. So if you’re not sure about riding the waves yet, there is space for you to float on by and stop off to do some fishing! Nielsen believes this project will reconnect the community and will restore the river to its healthy habitat.