When Ralph Pascale looks at the rapids churning in the Mohawk River in Cohoes, he sees a kayaker’s paradise.
Standing on the Ontario Street Bridge Wednesday, he pointed out a two-foot drop just downstream, where there’s a standing wave that could be used for white-water surfing. A short distance upstream, he showed off a spot where water pours over a horseshoe-shaped rock formation to create a natural water feature.
All it would take is a little bit of tweaking to make the turbulent half-mile section of the river into an all-out white-water park, said Pascale, who is co-chairman of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s white-water committee and a former Cohoes economic developer.
White-water park architect John Anderson, who toured the area, confirmed Pascale’s belief, and the city government has adopted it as part of its plan for a 6.6-mile Blueway loop trail located where the Mohawk and Hudson rivers converge.
The water trail, which would be free to use, would provide sports enthusiasts with access to multiple local launch and portage sites and a combination of flat water and exhilarating rapids.
The trail would loop around Van Schaick Island, Simmons Island and Peebles Island, and pass Second Island, Goat Island, Bock Island and an unnamed island.
The preliminary funding estimate for the project is $800,000, which would cover design and construction costs, including three kayak and canoe launch sites, staging and parking areas, one bathroom, a storage house and signage, according to a waterfront redevelopment proposal created by the city.
The city will partner with Waterford, Troy, and the state on the outdoor recreation package and funding will likely be sought in 2014, said Edward Tremblay, the city's director of community and economic development.
The Blueway trail will add another outdoor recreation opportunity in the city, which for the past five years has been working on bike-hike trail projects to connect the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail to the Cohoes Heritage Trail and the Delaware Avenue Trail.
“We’re in the process of finishing up the Black Bridge project, which is going to be connecting Cohoes with Green Island. This is going to be huge because you’re going to actually be able to [start] all the way up on the hill of Cohoes, travel to the island; you could go all the way down to Alive at Five now without even crossing the highway, which is great,” said Cohoes Mayor George Primeau.
Unlike constructing a bike-hike trail, creating a river trail doesn’t require much in the way of trailblazing, but access points are needed and presently they are few and far between.
Right now, in order to put a kayak or canoe into the Mohawk River near the Ontario Street Bridge where the rapids start, the easiest option is to descend a steep bank on Simmons Island accessible from a U-Haul dealership parking lot, Pascale said. The bank is clogged with sumac trees and weeds, and has no visible trail leading down to the water.
The city owns property on both sides of the river and officials are considering adding a deck and an entrance point on the bank opposite Simmons Island near the Ontario Street Bridge, according to Tremblay.
Slight modifications will need to be made to the river to enhance the rapids.
“It’s pretty straightforward according to the architect, but you still need to do a survey of the riverbed at each particular site. If we’re lucky, you can get out there with a grader and a little bit of equipment and you can just massage that riverbed a little bit and channel the water to where you want it to go,” Pascale said.
The city plans to work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure changes made to the river would not be detrimental, noted Tremblay.
“It’s not going to increase the flow; it’s not going to jeopardize anybody downstream for flooding reasons or anything of that nature,” he assured.
An application for the project has not yet been filed with the DEC, but when one is, it will likely need to be reviewed not only by the DEC and the Corps of Engineers but also the Canal Corporation and the Department of State, said DEC press spokesman Peter Constantakes.
The review would include an investigation into the project’s potential impact on flooding, bank stability and marine resources, he said.
The Mohawk River is a Section 10 navigable waterway, so a permit would be needed to add any structures or fill to the river, said Andy Dangler, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers.
River-based endeavors similar to the proposed Cohoes white-water park have been undertaken in other locations, he noted.
Before the Cohoes project can be approved, the Corps of Engineers will research any impact that proposed changes to the riverbed would have on navigability and on the environment, both upstream and downstream, he said.
Once the project receives all necessary approvals, Pascale said the cost for the river modifications will be minimal compared to what it would cost to build a white-water park from scratch.
“In many parts around the country they’re building these white-water parks from the ground up, spending millions of dollars and putting in huge pumps and just constructing the whole park. Here you’ve already got a natural river, the natural flow,” he said.
In addition to the natural water flow, two hydroelectric plants upstream regularly release water, increasing the flow over the rapids. The city has plans to make a schedule available so river users will know when those releases will be, Tremblay said.
Pascale said he foresees the white-water park drawing enthusiasts from a wide radius.
The closest standing wave river feature outside of Cohoes can be found in Luzerne and then beyond that, in Watertown, he noted.
The city has many other things to offer visitors who come to town to enjoy the Blueway trail, including Cohoes Falls, walking trails, shops, eateries and a wealth of history, Primeau said.