Editorials

A whitewater park in North Raleigh could reap many dividends

rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

The U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte happens to be an Olympic training site, but it’s also a great deal of fun for mere mortals. It draws visitors from surrounding counties and beyond, and the economic impact, a figure difficult to define, is by any measure considerable.

So city officials in Raleigh need to rethink an investment in a proposed whitewater park in North Raleigh. The park is estimated to cost $3.6 million – a likely low figure for the total expense – but the city wouldn’t use any of the $92 million in parks spending going up for a vote in a referendum Nov. 4.

Those in the area who have been pushing the park idea had planned to raise the money themselves, but the recession pretty much threw water on that idea. They are still encouraging the city council to consider funding the park and, admirably, they’re not giving up.

Helping to pay for the park would be a chance for Raleigh to help define part of the city that sometimes feels neglected and shut off in terms of recreation. Some residents who rarely venture outside the Beltline might take a fancy to whitewater and in the process discover some other new places and new friends in “Nawth Rawleigh.”

The park would be a Falls Lake facility built into the existing river, and it would stretch from the base of the dam along the Neuse River. It is a fairly small area, but advocate-in-chief Elizabeth Gardner (the WRAL meteorologist) believes it would draw all sorts of visitors, as has the park in Charlotte.

She’s right. The “outdoor craze” has long been in full throttle in this area, with so many younger residents interested in new entertainment venues. Many would like to run whitewater every weekend if they could, but natural rivers with rapids aren’t around every corner.

The proof would be in the pudding here. And the initial investment would almost certainly deliver a return that in time would make the $3.6 million or $4 million look like a wise expenditure.

As Raleigh council member Mary-Ann Baldwin said, “I think this is something that could make a statement in North Raleigh. It would add a lot of diversity to our parks and recreation effort.” The at-large council member brings a good, forward-thinking citywide perspective to the issue.

A whitewater park is thinking outside the box a little, and Raleigh, once labeled a “city of beige,” needs the diversity Baldwin is talking about, something that would appeal to a broader constituency. Raleigh has a good city council, progressive thinkers who have dared to add color to the beige in recent years.

The council members should continue that pattern and make this investment. And it won’t take the “long term” to pay off.

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