On Thursday, May 19th, the community gathered for a Ribbon Cutting ceremony near the Kearney Hike & Bike Trail to celebrate the completion of the Kearney Whitewater Project. Click here to view the Facebook live video of the ceremony.
This achievement wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication and commitment from the Kearney Whitewater Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to establishing a whitewater park and water trail in Kearney, Nebraska. The Association was formed in 2012 by a small group of local paddling enthusiasts who felt there was recreational potential in the local waterway. An executive board was formed for the Association and an agreement was signed with the Kearney Area Community Foundation to begin operating as one of their affiliates.
President and CEO of the Kearney Area Community Foundation, Judi Sickler, addressed the group as "Dreamers in the community that had a vision. Dreamers that want to make the community a better place to live and add something to our quality of life here in Kearney." She met the founders of the group in 2012 when they came into her office with the idea of the Kearney Whitewater Project.
On April 7th, water was released in the Kearney diversion canal that feeds Turkey Creek setting the project in full motion. With two man-made in stream water features, Kearney became the first such attraction built in the state of Nebraska.
City Councilman Randy Buschkoetter stated, “It’s amazing what can happen when nobody worries about who gets the credit.” The Councilman went on to say, “It doesn’t happen without the tremendous support that you see from the people standing to your right and to your left here at this event.”
Kevin Witte, member of the Kearney Park and Recreation Advisory Board and President of the Kearney Whitewater Association Board, explained how the idea first formed at people’s houses, in restaurants, and sketched on napkins; but over time, that vision started to take shape. “It’s really those public and private partnerships that make this kind of thing happen.” Witte stated.
Director, Bruce Karnatz, of the Kearney Whitewater Association, commemorated the support and encouragement from former Mayor and community advocate, Bruce Blankenship. He also recognized UNK graduate, Daniel Zavadil for the market study prepared on the economic impact a whitewater park would contribute. The conclusion of the research revealed that any development such as the Kearney Whitewater not only benefits the community and its quality of life, but also encourages travelers to stop and visit, stay in the lodging, eat at the restaurants, and spend money on other shopping, gas, or entertainment.
Karnatz shared some of the accomplishments since 2011 in effort to achieve their whitewater plans. Almost 20 tons of debris and trash has been removed from the canal, allowing clear passage. The KWA has grown their membership and averaged around 100 members per year. They financed a conceptual design contract with S2O Design & Engineering. Other activities and accomplishments can be seen on the Kearney Whitewater page. Karnatz called for an opportunity for KWA to work with the city and help keep the waters clean of garbage and debris.
Scott Hayden, Director of Kearney Parks and Recreation, mentioned the many great benefits to having a Whitewater Park including the exhilaration, adventure, gained confidence, socialization, enjoying the outdoors, as well as the solitude. Hayden said if you kayak all the way from Yanney Park, you could be floating down the canal and completely forget you’re in the middle of Kearney.