Ready2Raft: Columbus State Preparing for Whitewater

cover of fall 2012 issue of Focus magazine      From Focus magazine, Fall 2012 >>

By Tim Turner

Rick Cravens had the kayaks. He just needed a few students to help test his hunch.

Cravens, Columbus State’s Campus Recreation director, was certain the proposed 2.5-mile whitewater course on the Chattahoochee River would be a major asset for CSU’s RiverPark campus. To that end, he and Chad Day, aquatics coordinator at CSU’s Student Recreation Center, started whitewater kayaking and rafting training, anticipating student interest. Shortly after getting CSU’s first kayaks last spring, he announced
to students a “Come Try Out the Kayaks” event and confirmed his hunch.

“We had 25 people show up,” he said. “That was very, very surprising. There are a lot of people interested in what is going on. We think there will be a number of students who want to get into it once they see everything that is happening.”

Once workers finish clearing out the debris and reshaping the riverbed and the Eagle and Phenix and City Mills dams are demolished, returning the river to its natural state in mid-2013, the fun will begin. The whitewater course will run from just south of the North Highlands dam, around 35th Street, and end south of what was the Eagle and Phenix dam, near 11th Street, making it the world’s longest urban whitewater course.

A Columbus State study projects it will create 700 new jobs — in hospitality and service industries, plus retail — and pump $42 million a year into the local economy from residents and tourists visiting Uptown Columbus. About 188,000 visitors are expected at the river annually, including 144,000 from beyond the Chattahoochee Valley, bringing in $300,000 in lodging taxes and $1.7 million in city sales taxes.

“(The whitewater project) will be three blocks from campus, sometimes right next door with our green space,” said study author Mike Daniels, professor at CSU’s Turner College of Business. “The people who will be coming will be younger .... Ultimately, this will be a great marketing tool for the university.”
It’s also expected to be a great opportunity for students seeking temporary employment.

“A lot of these will not be career-oriented jobs,” Daniels said. “It will be a chance for them to work while in school. Just the operation of the whitewater venue alone will have 185 jobs, and it’s right there next to campus.”

Cravens and Day took a weeklong course at the Nantahala Whitewater Rafting operation in North Carolina last March. And they’ve taken small groups out to test their strokes on rapids created after the first dam demolition.

“We plan to buy some rafts once we see the rapids,” Cravens said. “How big they are, how small — will determine what size raft we need. Do we need a raft that’s really big if the water’s really big? Or something a little bit smaller, swift, so we can maneuver through the rapids, around rocks,
things like that?”

Cravens said that could make a big difference in terms of what’s needed and expectations.

“Nantahala is willing to come down to Columbus to help us select the rafts we need,” Cravens said. “(They would) help us read the river and find the best routes through the river. We’re excited about having those folks come down, probably next winter to help us make those decisions so we get the best raft for our students, to give them the best ride.”

kayaking girlColumbus State stands to get a good ride as well. More whitewater enthusiasts coming to the city means more people checking out the RiverPark campus.
“It will be excellent exposure,” Cravens said. “There will be thousands and thousands of people through there every week during the summertime when that thing opens. Once we start doing our trips, it will open it up. CSU will have a whitewater rafting service where you can go down the river.”

Cravens said he’s spoken with representatives of The Outside World in Uptown Columbus about collaborating with CSU on whitewater trips and classes. CSU Continuing Education already offers kayaking classes to the public in the university’s recreation center.
“We plan to do things like that exclusively for our students and at no charge to our students,” Cravens said. “In a kayak, it’s very easy to flip over. Once you flip over you have to learn how to put yourself back upright in moving water. We want to teach them the best methods out there.”

To ensure the people they train are armed with the best information and taught the latest skills, Cravens and Day continue to expand their knowledge. Their goal is to help students make informed decisions.

“Rafting and kayaking are vastly different,” Cravens said. “We will see once that course is open if our students will want to learn how to kayak or if they want to rent out equipment and try (other) whitewater sports. We’re trying to get prepared for anything that is going to happen. We anticipate a lot will happen.”

Whatever transpires, Cravens expects a lot of interest.

“I think (Uptown Columbus) will be the place to be,” he said. “More restaurants, more services for the people who come rafting, more outdoors-y stuff. I think the Riverwalk will grow and get more use. People will be on it watching people raft and kayak. It is a great time to be at CSU.”

(Editor's Note: This version of this article has been altered slightly from the printed magazine.)

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Captions, top to bottom

CSU students (from left) Taylor McGurl, Chris Grier, Tess Moore, Jasmine Liddlelow, Travis Gladney and Ryan Collins enjoy trying out the whitewater Aug. 24. (Photo by Torrey Wiley)

John Pasciak (far left, standing) discusses with fellow student lifeguard Catherine Massey a paddling technique as they prepare to kayak with Chad Day, then CSU aquatics coordinator (red kayak), on July 27. That’s CSU’s art and theatre complex in the background, across the Chattahoochee River. (Photo by Roger Hart)

Catherine Massey paddles her kayak July 27. (Photo by Roger Hart)