The Prairie Rapids Project
The Cedar River is the defining feature of Cedar Falls. The Cedar powered nascent industries, cooled our ice boxes in the summer and was a source of many recreational activities. Today, the river represents a bygone feature in many minds, a threat more than a natural asset. Thankfully, a new vision has been presented that will restore the Cedar River as the defining asset of our community. The vision will embrace the river's natural beauty, enhance aquatic life, provide recreation and leisure opportunities and will become a prominent community meeting place.
The Prairie Rapids Project aims to connect anglers, waders, kayakers and revelers to Cedar Falls' most distinctive feature, the Cedar River. In year's past, efforts focused on the Clay Pool area to create a one of kind whitewater play area. Limited resources stymied progress, but the vision lived-on and appears poised to blossom. The current project's success relies on community engagement to restore our river's heritage for ecology, recreation and leisure. The Prairie Rapids Leadership Committee consists of Mark Miller (Cedar Falls City Council), Dave Morgan (Single Speed Brewery), Larry Kurtz (Landscape Architect) and Ty Graham (Whitewater Advocate). If you would like to play a role, drop me a line.
The Iowa DNR has an aggressive low-head dam mitigation program to improve the safety, navigability and health of Iowa rivers. Safety is the primary impetus for available state funds, but future grant preference will be given to communities that demonstrate a broader vision for recreation and ecology. Cedar Falls' 12.5' tainter/low-head dam (tainter dam is the gated portion for flood control) is on the target list. Since 1900, 160 people have died in low-head dam accidents throughout Iowa, 46 since 1990. In Cedar Falls, Lyell Corwin died in 1954 in a fishing accident, the only recorded fatality. Low-head dams also have a negative impact on the aquatic health and navigability (fish and people) of rivers.
The Prairie Rapids master plan would expand the scope beyond mitigation alone. While Cedar Falls expects to receive a $50,000 DNR grant ($100,000 total with city match) for the engineering design to remove the low-head dam, the recreational and ecological components are not assured. The Prairie Rapids Project is a fundraising effort to support recreational and ecological design and construction components and to expand the planning scope from Island Park to Washington Park. The final plan will be a fully actionable plan inclusive of safety, paddler, wader, park goer interests and concerns including hydrology, recreational feature design, trails, and riverbank landscaping. This expanded scope design could cost an additional $50,000. This is the fundraising goal.
This is the time to design a comprehensive plan that is indicative of our heritage and future promise of the river. Done right, the area will be a magnet for residents and tourists.
Other Iowa cities have demonstrated the benefit of river revitalization. We will take ques from wildly successful projects in Charles City, Elkader and Manchester. The economic impact in Charles City alone is estimated to be $750,000 per year!
These cities are forming a whitewater coalition which is paying serious dividends by attracting visitors and tourism. Our own whitewater feature in connection with the excellent trail system, campgrounds and vibrant downtown community will further establish Cedar Falls as the Northeast destination for Midwest recreation.
Prairie Rapids is coming into focus, the resources are aligning to restore the most important natural asset in our city, the Cedar River. Prairie Rapids will attract all who value the tranquility of rambling water, the excitement of good fishing, the thrill of kayaking, the pleasure of tubing, the joy of wading and the overarching beauty of our most prized natural asset, the Cedar River.
Excited yet? Sweet. Here's how you can help...
- Buy a Whitewater Black Beer from Single Speed, $1.00 of each pint sale goes directly to the cause. Buy a Whitewater Black Beer t-shirt... again, all the proceeds go to the cause.
- Mail your generous donation to the Cedar Falls Community Foundation (c/o Prairie Rapids Project, P.O. Box 546 Cedar Falls, IA 50613)
Oh yes, the Cedar Falls Community Foundation is a a 501(c)(3) organization, your donation is tax deductible!
- FAQs -
What is a Whitewater Park?
Whitewater parks involve the sculpting of river bottoms to achieve flow characteristics to support the river's natural ecology while creating recreational features for water sport, fishing and wading. Whitewater parks will take advantage of gravitational energy created by the natural drop in the river or a man-made dam feature, where the whitewater design mitigates safety concerns of normal dams. The whitewater features enable safe raft, tube, canoe, kayak and even recreational boating passage. The materials are normally natural and native materials and plantings (with some mortaring to stabilize).
What is the Timeline?
While subject to many variables ranging from DNR approval to weather, the following is the best guess at timeline (2015: Design; 2016: Build; 2017: Enjoy):
What are the environmental benefits of a Dam to Whitewater conversion?
Dam-to-whitewater conversion helps restore a river's natural condition while maintaining reservoir benefits above the whitewater feature. In Cedar Falls, a whitewater design replaces the vertical drop (and dangerous roller action) with a sculpted, cascading river section. The resultant grade controls water velocities and direction to create waves and pools that change with the river's flow. Whitewater designs normally include a deeper water channels which mimics natural rivers channels which creates routes for the passage of aquatic life, while also reducing sediment build-up in the upstream portion.Rapids allow fish to migrate and also create desirable habitat for rock-dwelling species such as smallmouth bass, walleye and even endangered mussels.The directional flow can reduce water velocities on the banks which further discourages erosion and allows for natural riverbanks versus rip rap. In addition, a whitewater park is virtually maintenance free.
What are the economic benefits of a whitewater park?
Determining the direct economic impact of a whitewater investment is a complex task requiring a detailed assessment of factors ranging from local 'outfitting' to tourist trip demand modeling. With whitewater parks becoming more common in Northeast Iowa, empirical evidence is readily available. Today, Charles City, IA, estimates the annual economic impact at around $750,000/year on their $1.65 million investment. Economic impact includes hotel stays, fuel, food, outfitting, etc. Other city's estimate much greater returns. From an operating cost perspective, the benefit arrives at nearly no cost because unlike a golf course or pool, a whitewater park facility has no direct operating costs. In many ways, this investment could be viewed as any other park, that is, it is built into the community for the public good, a reflection of our priorities for making Cedar Falls unique and distinctive.
With surrounding whitewater parks such as Charles City, Manchester and Elkader, it is plausible that Cedar Falls would become the gateway for the whitewater experience in Northeast Iowa thereby contributing even more to the economic and tourism measures we strive to attain.
For more detail, visit American Whitewater's site on economic benefits.
A video on Charles City's river improvements: