UGRWCD hoping to breathe life back into Whitewater Fest

Donates $10,000 for 2008 event

The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) decided to give $10,000 to support next year’s Gunnison Whitewater Festival during the discussion and approval of the district’s 2008 budget. As part of the discussion the district also decided to maintain its current taxing level for property taxes, a decision that will bring in more than $400,000 in additional revenue this year.




During a regular UGRWCD meeting on Monday, December 10, board member Ken Spann raised the issue of the mil levy, which the board had considered dropping in response to a large jump in property values. Spann said he was still not comfortable keeping the current mil levy and believed there were other budget options for the district to pursue. But board member Bob Drexel said it was a dead issue that they could not change this late in the year. Board member Gary Hausler said many members of the community had thanked him for trying to reduce the tax burden.
The board voted seven to three to keep the current mil levy rate, with members Hausler, Spann and Steve Glazer dissenting.
The board voted six to four to approve the 2008 budget, with Spann, Hausler, Glazer and Brett Redden dissenting.
Prior to approving the 2008 budget, the board discussed a new line item that would allocate funds toward organizing and promoting the 2008 Gunnison Whitewater Festival.
The $10,000 line item was suggested during the district’s November 26 meeting, where it was agreed that a festival coordinator position, coupled with recent repairs at the Whitewater Park in Gunnison, could be the recipe for an economic and cultural success.
The Gunnison Whitewater Festival has seen several guises over the years. According to former festival director and whitewater enthusiast Bob Jones, in 2004 and 2005 the festival attracted more than 1,000 people. It was sponsored by companies like Teva and New Belgium and was re-dubbed the Colorado Adventure Sports Festival, rather than the old Gunnison Whitewater Festival.
In 2006, festival attendance “kind of dropped off because of the lack of features down at the Whitewater Park,” Jones says. Whitewater pockets and rock structures that created the unique hydraulics of the park eventually washed out, which made the park less of an attraction, Jones says.
This fall, Gunnison County funded repairs and improvements to the whitewater structures, which involved bringing in an excavator to rebuild channel walls and place a series of large boulders.
“The recent repairs Gunnison County has made provide the park with the potential of a better boating experience,” says UGRWCD manager Frank Kugel. “The district feels there’s an opportunity to better promote the Whitewater Festival.”
During the district’s December meeting the board agreed that a committee should be formed to decide how best to use the UGRWCD’s funding to promote the event and organize activities.
At the meeting Kugel said he had talked to a few whitewater enthusiasts in Gunnison who are busy forming the new committee. Kugel said he was arranging meetings between the new committee, the City of Gunnison and the Gunnison County commissioners to solidify partnerships with the other entities.
Jones says the new committee is talking about events that made previous Whitewater Festivals successful. He says the Whitewater Park in Gunnison is the centerpiece, but the festival usually includes rafting, foam boat racing, a townie bike race and a small marathon.
Support of the festival seems stronger than ever this year, according to Jones. He says the committee is expecting additional funding from the City of Gunnison and the Western State College Student Government Association, and in-kind support from organizations like High Country Citizens’ Alliance and the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition.
Jones says the committee isn’t sure how funding is going to work out just yet, but they are focused on making the event sustainable. However, Jones says he probably won’t be extensively involved in the festival planning next year because he and his wife just had a baby.
During the December meeting UGRWCD board president Brett Redden reminded the audience that the $10,000 has been budgeted, but it has not been appropriated yet.
Anyone interested in serving on the Whitewater Festival committee should contact the UGRWCD offices at (970) 641-6065. 

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