The Reno River Festival kicks off Friday at a whitewater park in the raging waters of the Truckee River that has become the poster child for Nevada tourism officials promoting the state's opportunities for outdoor adventure.
Professional kayakers will compete over the weekend in the
2,600-foot long stretch of the river where 11 "drop pools" have
been constructed creating a series of Class 2 and Class 3 rapids.
"I've been involved with water parks all over the country but
my true love is right here," said Jim Litchfield, a Reno kayaker
who helped design the park, which opened in the spring of 2004.
"This has become the pre-eminent water park and river festival
in the country," he said.
"It's not only become a tourist attraction but it's given a
reason for the community to come down here and be proud of it's
downtown and the river running through it."
"The predominant use this weekend will be kayakers because of
the big spring runoff, but in the summer you'll see a transition to
general community usage. There will be 10-year-olds in inner tubes
and fishermen," he said.
Jud Keiser of Spokane, Wash., was among the competitors making
practice runs in the rapids Thursday afternoon.
"I drove 820 miles just to compete in this," Keiser said.
"You should have seen the smile on my face when I got here. I
was just expecting three or four ledge drops. I was not expecting
this. I love it. It ought to be a model for the country as far as
building play parks," he said.
State and local tourism officials teamed up with Litchfield and
others in 2000 to create a plan to improve a 24-mile stretch of the
river and build the $1.5 million whitewater park around an existing
island and amphitheater three blocks from the city's main casino
The idea was to help promote northern Nevada as "America's
Keiser said it's working.
"It really makes we want to hang out and enjoy the town. I'm
not a gambler, but I'm staying in a hotel and eating at the
restaurants so they are definitely getting my money," he said.
Jay Kincaid, the 2003 world freestyle kayaking champion and
three-time U.S. Point Series Champion, has made the park his
training base because of its easy access.
"Rather than having to drive for miles and then hike to an
access point, I can just head downtown and drop in," he said.
Litchfield said the park's proximity to a dense urban area makes
"Most kayaking is limited to wild areas and remote canyons,"
Patrick Nichols, an instructor for Surfnv Kayaking School, said
he moved to Reno three years ago from Durango, Colo., partly
because of plans to build the whitewater park.
"There are more and more pro athletes moving here to train. And
just the visibility of it downtown has really inspired a lot of
people to try kayaking," he said.
"I feel personally the best rivers to run in the country are in
Northern California. It's nice to come to Reno and be able to play
around and go right over the hill and do some Class 5 rapids," he
The Truckee River runs about 90 miles from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid
Lake, with Reno at the halfway point. The next phase of the overall
project is a similar $1.5 million whitewater park about 3.5 miles
downstream in Sparks.
Organizers are emphasizing safety this weekend because of the
high water flows and cold water temperatures in the 40s. The river
typically flows from 1,000 to 1,200 cubic feet per second this time
of year and drops to about half that in July and August. But
because of heavy snowfall this winter, the river is running at
about 3,100 cubic feet per second, Litchfield said.
In addition to the competition, experts will give kayaking
clinics and lessons at the three-day festival. Booths on the shores
will offer food and exhibits, and live music is scheduled into the