RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — The landscape of the Arkansas riverbank in Russellville could look very different in the near future. A study launched this week will determine if it makes sense to use untapped dam water to create a whitewater rapids attraction.
The idea of becoming reality is a way off. A feasibility study was just approved by the Russellville city council Thursday, September 15. Engineers are looking at not only if it can be done but if the cost and impact would be reasonable.
Our station spoke with the civil engineer who thought of the idea more than a year ago. Where most people see rushing water, Morgan Barrett sees potential.
While exercising in Russellville one day last year, Barrett saw the Dardanelle lock and dam and thought about what could be done with the water passing through not being converted into power.
He said, “Maybe we can borrow that water for a little bit and put it to work.”
His concept was a whitewater rapids park for beginners and the advanced. A different portion served by the same water would be a catch and release pool for the handicapped and young. Other features may be added during the feasibility study.
“To determine what else is possible and try to hit and service as many people as possible,” Barrett explained.
The idea isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before. Canada, Ohio, Texas, and even a dam on the Ouachita River have made similar use of the untapped potential of falling water near a dam.
It’s a creation outdoorsman Norman Chronister would love.
“I feel like it is something that will be embraced well if it is designed properly,” he remarked.
Norman has kayaked for 25 years and thinks the appeal is there.
“With outdoor activities growing. I think it is the future of the people trying to get out and enjoy the Natural State,” Norman encouraged.
To crest the wave to construction, the biggest hurdle is cost. State Senator for District 16 Breanne Davis said she’s happy to help.
“This is something that plays into even a larger vision that we have in our community,” Senator Davis said. “You’ve got to connect to the federal government, the state government, parks, and tourism possibly. Look for grants and different funding opportunities.”
It may seem hard to imagine, but that hasn’t stopped Russellville yet, and they don’t expect that to stop them anytime soon.
“There’s a lot of people who are going to say, ‘Oh you can’t ever do that.’ But I think a lot of people involved at this point have been told that and if we would have quit at the first time, there would have been a lot of projects that never would have been done in this area,” Barrett concluded.
Although one of the biggest questions is the price, that is not yet been decided for this project. Similar ones completed within the past five years have cost between $4M to $16M depending upon how much is done to the landscape.