New foundation dreams of riverfront recreation

Posted by Spalding Hurst

February 12, 2011

By ANDREW ROBINSON, The Daily News

Nearly six years ago, Western Kentucky University professor Steve Spencer and then-Greenways Coordinator Helen Siewers made a presentation at a Downtown Redevelopment Authority meeting proposing a 1,400-foot, six-drop whitewater park on the Barren River.

Fast forward to today, and the idea has movement again.

Clinton Lewis and Paul Ress, along with members of the Kentucky Mountain Bike Association, have formed the Bowling Green Riverfront Foundation in hopes of creating a human-powered recreation park that would offer activities such as biking, bouldering, rafting and kayaking.

Spencer, who is involved to a lesser degree than before, said he believes the foundation wants him to serve on the board in some capacity.

The foundation is in its infancy and has officially been together for only about a month. The group will meet tonight at Mariah’s restaurant to elect a board of directors, as well as an executive committee and subcommittees to look at the three main aspects of the park – biking, bouldering and a whitewater course – according to Lewis.

Lewis has been inspired for some time by rock climbing parks across the country and was always interested in bringing a park to Bowling Green and Warren County.

Ress, a recent University of Louisville graduate, moved to Bowling Green over the summer and works for Hear Here. Upon moving to the city, Ress saw the potential for a whitewater park and said he saw it as an opportunity to improve the community.

Both Lewis and Ress agreed there’s a need for the riverfront park in Bowling Green. Currently, some of the closest rafting is on the Ocoee River near Chattanooga, Tenn.

Lewis said he believes the park could be a huge tourist draw for the region as well as being good for the city’s economy.

According to research Ress has compiled, the return of investment in one year on a whitewater park could be in the range of $3 million. Ress said the current figure for the cost of the park is about $5 million to $6 million.

Lewis said it will be a multiyear effort to get the park done, but that the foundation’s initial target is to complete it in the next five years.

Ress mentioned recent riverfront improvements in both Owensboro and Louisville and said Bowling Green needs to be improved, too.

“It’s sort of shameful Bowling Green doesn’t have a riverfront of its own,” Ress said.

The whitewater project would start at the Bowling Green Municipal Utilities dam near Louisville Road and extend to the College Street walking bridge downtown.

Ress tracked down original plans devised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from when the park was on the table when the Tax Increment Financing district was in its drawing-board stages.

In addition to naming a board of directors, the foundation will look for funding sources.

Lewis said currently they have no major sources, but are looking at all options, including other foundations and grants. Lewis said the riverfront foundation would love to find a private donor.

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