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Colton whitewater rafting enhancements could include parking lots, changing facility, observation deck

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COLTON - A paved parking lot, a structure with restrooms and changing areas and an observation deck are on the drawing board as officials work toward improving whitewater rafting opportunities in Colton.

Potsdam Planning and Development Director Fred Hanss updated the Colton Town Board this week about the status of the St. Lawrence Whitewater Park project, which involves the village of Potsdam, the town of Canton and the town of Colton in an effort to advance waterfront revitalization and blueway trail development on the Raquette River and Grasse River.

“The major project that we’ve been working on over the last almost 12 months is the St. Lawrence Whitewater Parks project. This was funded through the Department of State in 2012, and it contains five distinct project components,” Mr. Hanss said.

The components include a Whitewater Park feasibility study, Stone Valley Whitewater area access improvements, Ives Park access improvements, a blueway trail map, and swift water rescue training.

Mr. Hanss added the Stone Valley area is one of the top five whitewater destinations in eastern North America and according to the whitewater park consultant working with local officials on the effort the area is probably one of the top locations in North America.

“It draws a lot of people in from around New York state. It draws a lot of people in from around the northeastern U.S. and up into provinces of Ontario and Quebec,” Mr. Hanss said.

“When you do release dates, a lot of people that pull into Colton, they’re either here to paddle or they’re here to watch people who are paddling. ... There were some problems that were identified by the paddlers. There are also some problems that were identified by people in town and you probably have heard some of these. Some of them are that parking is problematic. Some of them are that the kayakers get out of the car, peel off their clothes, jump into a wet suit and then off they go. There really is no place for them to do that other than the parking lot or the woods, neither of which is appropriate. Also, there are no rest room facilities.

“So in thinking about how we position Colton to be able to handle the influx of tourists that are coming here and make it a better experience for them so that they’re more apt to return, what’s been discussed, and what the town board agreed to do, was to apply for some grant funding to do some infrastructure improvements in that area.”

While he noted that a parking update at the Stone Valley location is separate from the Whitewater Park feasibility study, Mr. Hanss said a proposal is in place. “At the end of Riverside Drive, there is a parking lot there as well. There has been some issues with the neighbor across the street and people parking in front of his garage or blocking in his driveway in the past. There’s really no parking signs, and it’s just kind of an informal place,” he said. “So the thinking is that we would pave that as the main parking area for Stone Valley. ... So we have a proposal to develop that parking lot with some handicap accessible parking because we are required to provide that under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Mr. Hanss said officials have also discussed the development of overflow parking near the Colton Fire Station, which would not be paved but would be suitable for vehicles. The two parking areas would be linked by a trail and most of the area is under Brookfield Renewable Power domain.

He explained that money is available for both design and construction, while Brookfield will be providing the necessary labor and also grant dollars for the purchase of materials.

“We got money for materials through the Department of State’s local waterfront revitalization program. Brookfield Renewable is providing us with ... labor as part of a match basically. It’s part of their public relations program,” Mr. Hanss said. “There’s also an observation deck that will be constructed below the parking lot. This is typically where paddlers will go down and put their kayaks into the water. We’re trying to keep that up above the high water mark because any kind of improvements that you put below there, at some point they’ll be gone.”

Mr. Hanss said that the total cost for supplies is $37,644, but with Brookfield providing the labor that would be about half of the total cost.

He also talked about the possible economic effect the project could have on Colton.

“Anytime anybody comes to the town board or to the county, we get a lot of great ideas but people are often times very short on information about what are the costs that the community is going to have to bear and what’s going to have to be raised annually to support these kinds of activities and what is the real economic impact on the community. To get at the heart of that, we decided that with this particular application, we would try to address the economy straight away. (Colton Town Supervisor) Denny (Bulger) brought up participation by the town of Colton,” he said.

“Basically what’s going on is, the town of Colton, the village of Potsdam and the town of Canton are working together as partners on the project that’s called St. Lawrence Whitewater Parks. The idea is that it’s a single park with three distinct locations that are graded by difficulty.

“The best analogy that I’ve got for you is like a ski hill. We have double diamond, we have the intermediate level, and then the bunny slope. Colton has that double black diamond maybe with an extra diamond thrown in in Stone Valley. It’s crown jewel for whitewater people. Canton has some really, really great whitewater paddling opportunities right downtown. Potsdam has not so much whitewater, but it’s got a good drop and some good gradients.”

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