Whitewater Park Being Shared By All

City of Reno, Nevada
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Throngs of people lured to Reno's new whitewater park on the Truckee River for swimming, kayaking and tubing need to share the resource, designers of the project said.

The urging comes as the popularity of the park grows, sometimes causing tension between kayakers and others who come to the river to swim or float the current on inner tubes.

Eugene Ketzenberg, 23, of Stead, said he's noticed kayakers occasionally get angry with others out to enjoy the whitewater waves.

"I understand there's a safety issue, but I don't understand what they're complaining about," Ketzenberg said Thursday while watching his daughter, Taylor, 3, play in the water.

"There's four sets of rapids, I don't see what the problem is with sharing."

Park designers agree.

"This is not a kayak park," said Gary Lacy, the Boulder, Colo.-based consultant that worked on Reno's park. "This is a whitewater community park. The worst thing you can do is segregate the scene and come off as elitists."

Lacy was kayaking Thursday with the lead engineer on the park, Jim Litchfield of Reno. The two men and their sons shared a whitewater wave with some teenagers using boogie boards, small surf-board-like water toys.

Lacy, who has been touring similar parks in Colorado and Wyoming, said other communities experience similar growing pains.

"The vast majority of people, 99.9 percent, respect each other," he said.

Litchfield said the park was intended for multiple uses.

"This is exactly the anticipated user," he said, referring to non-kayakers playing in the park. "However, we were surprised by the numbers."

Litchfield, Lacy and others say what worries them most is not occasional friction between users, but so few people using life jackets or helmets.

Even though the whitewater park has been altered, the Truckee River is still subject to the normal behavior of rivers, such as flooding, undercurrents and hidden objects.

"It's not a swimming pool, it's not an amusement park, it's a natural river," Lacy said.

Mike Miltner, owner of Tahoe Whitewater Tours, the concessionaire selected to operate at the whitewater park, estimated only 25 percent of the people who rent $5 inner tubes choose to spend another $5 to rent a life jacket and helmet.

He said his employees encourage renters to wear the safety gear, but most, especially teenagers and adults without small children, shrug off the advice.

"They say, 'It's OK, we're just tubing,'" he said.

Miltner said he's talked with officials about touring local schools next spring to spread the word about river safety.

"Ninety-nine out of 100 people will be fine," he said. "It's that 100th person."