Yampa River Corridor project start was delayed, but is still gaining momentum

The Yampa River Corridor Project has pushed back its timeline to break ground, but the delay is giving city officials more time to seek additional grant funding for the project, which aims to boost outdoor recreation in Craig and improve the city’s river infrastructure. 

The river project, which has been in the works for several years, was anticipated to break ground in fall 2022 after the city received a $3.3 million Economic Development Administration Assistance to Coal Communities Grant for the project. However, as a part of the EDA funding, additional approvals and permits were required, which delayed the project’s start. 

Melanie Kilpatrick, the city’s executive assistant who has been managing the project, said the delay has given the city more time to secure additional grant funding, as well as resources for grant administration. 

According to Kilpatrick, the ideal construction season for a river project like this is from September to March, when it’s drier and the water flows are lower. With the heavy snowfall this winter, the construction delay could work out even better for the project. 

Additional funding has been brought in that will put the city’s out-of-pocket contribution closer to $100,000 for the project’s $5 million budget. Once the final design is approved, pending any small changes, the city will issue a request for proposals to start construction this year, with the aim of finishing most of the work in a single season.

The project is slated to improve the city’s water intake infrastructure, as well as increase access and amenities along the river. Under the project, the current diversion site will be turned into a whitewater park with recreational features. 

Additionally, an access road will be established, and parking areas will be split up to try to minimize the impact on the wetland habitat. A paved boat ramp will be added on the river at Loudy-Simpson Park, about a quarter mile downriver from an existing gravel boat ramp. 

Kilpatrick said the new boat ramp will be positioned at an original output with natural eddies, so the project will just solidify the access point. The development on this side of Loudy-Simpson Park may also open up opportunities in the future to add more bathroom and park amenities.

“It’s not just a river project,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s a river park project. Once it’s complete, it will go under Parks and Recreation, and there will be outdoor and park spaces for non-river users as well.” 

The project includes walking and biking trails that city officials hope to one day connect to a larger trail system. The city is also becoming an example for other entities in Colorado and Utah that are looking to do similar projects. 

“They are curious about the process in general and what our experience has been,” said Kilpatrick, who recently published an article in the Colorado Municipalities magazine water edition sharing about the project. 

Locally, regionally and throughout the state, this project has been gaining momentum. Last year, representatives from the Great Outdoors Colorado grant program visited Craig and floated the river. Now, the city has a $600,000 grant pending with the program that will be determined sometime in March. 

Kilpatrick said that Craig is in a unique position right now where a lot of funding is available for coal transition communities, and while recreation is only one element of future economic development for Craig, this project will help better understand recreation’s role going forward.

Three local businesses — Good Vibes River Gear, the Bad Alibi Distillery and the Craig RV park have partnered on the project — with a commitment to track the impact of the project through added jobs and dollars coming into the community. 

The data collected could spur the next recreation project and help attract businesses to open their next branch here.

“Recreation is one leg of the stool,” Kilpatrick said. “We recognize that it’s one leg of the stool, and we’ll try to take advantage of that while we can.” 

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