Hey, Spike! channels river designer Jason Carey | SummitDaily.com

Hey, Spike! channels river designer Jason Carey

River designer Jason Carey challenging the Gore.
Caroline Bradford / Special to the Daily |

Before there were trains, planes and automobiles, America’s waterways were the focus of most transportation of people and goods.

With our developing nation’s growth, we turned our backs on those fluid navigational creeks, rivers and lakes.

Today, recreation industrialists are succeeding in returning our attention once again to the flowing waters — small and big.

Small — like Ten Mile Creek, flowing off Fremont and Vail passes, right through Frisco and into the Dillon Reservoir’s Frisco Bay.

Right below on West Main Street is a play-hole feature enhancing the water levels for kayakers, developed a few years ago.

Big — like the Upper Colorado River’s Class V Gore Canyon, fed by the Blue River, down through Green Mountain Reservoir of Summit County.

A multitude of officials and water sports enthusiasts recently cut the ribbon on the six years in the development $1.7 million wave feature known as the Gore Canyon Whitewater Park at the BLM Pumphouse Recreation Site, south of Kremmling.

This weekend’s Gorefest will amplify the newest riverworks.

“I think this wave compares well to the best wave in (the Arkansas River at Buena Vista), and, once folks discover it, this will become a really popular spot to surf,” Chris Hannon, a Summit County kayaker told the Denver Post’s outdoor writer Scott Willoughby in mid-July.

Both these waterways now have recreation commercial types providing activities based on paddling sports: rafting, kayaking and those new stand-uppers.

Playing an important role in designing and developing these liquid features was Jason Carey, a former Summit local who now calls Carbondale home.

Jason’s firm, River Restoration, based in Glenwood Springs, is a major player in Colorado and elsewhere.

He also designed and helped develop two nearby parks to the west of here.

“Our most famous projects are the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park and the Vail Whitewater Park,” says Jason. “The reputation from those has gotten us work all over the country — even in Yukon Territory.”

Those resume additions got River Restoration the Gore job.

“This park now holds the biggest water right on the Colorado River at 2,500 cubic feet per second, and it keeps that water in the river. We worked with Eagle County to develop the boat ramps at State Bridge, Two Bridges and Horse Gulch, as well as some camping spots,” Jason explains.

And as a result, “The Colorado now has 75 miles that you can overnight raft camp on,” he adds. “That is a lot of overnights.”

Now 45, and after marrying Renee nine years ago, the couple has two children: son JP, 5, and daughter Ava Grace, 8.

“I distinctly remember spending a cold July Fourth on the north side of Baldy Mountain in a house I was living in Breckenridge. I decided that I needed more summer in my life and relocated to the banana belt of Carbondale. I really enjoy having all four seasons,” he explains.

The Colorado native was born on the Front Range’s Littleton.

“I received a degree in physics from Fort Lewis in Durango where I lived for five years,” says Jason. “I started boating the Rio de los Animas Perdidas in 1989. I then went to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City for a master’s degree in water resources engineering. After Salt Lake, I wanted to return to my Colorado roots and found a job with FLO Engineering in Breckenridge.”

While attending Fort Lewis, Jason worked under a NASA grant to design a rocket that was launched from Wallops Island, Virginia.

For his engineering degree, he studied snow science and spent a lot of time in the mountains.

“Now I am a river engineer by trade,” he notes.

When working in Breckenridge, Jason lived mostly in Frisco at the Northwoods Inn, a small development at Fifth and Pitkin owned by Dan Kibbie, also an engineer, and today a town council person.

“I moved right before the pine beetle kill, now it’s hard to recognize the place,” remarks Jason.

Moving from The Summit further west on I-70, brought Jason to another project — the cleanup of sand on Vail Pass.

“Ten years ago, there was so much sand that the creek was completely buried in it. We worked with CDOT, Eagle County, Vail, USFS and a bunch of other partners to develop a cleanup plan, and we have been implementing it for the last 10 years. There really has been a difference, but its not over yet,” he says.

Among his latest works, Jason and his team have developed a penchant for “comprehensive urban river restoration.”

“In Ogden, Utah, we took 1.1 miles of channel flowing through junkyards and totally rebuilt it. Now it’s the center of the city redevelopment. But, we stayed true to the river, and it’s now considered ‘Blue Ribbon’ (equivalent to Gold Medal in Colorado) trout water, in the heart of the city. That’s what rivers offer, wilderness in the middle of cities, and that’s why our work is so in demand right now.”

“It’s in my blood. We are working all over the Midwest where old industrialized cities are doing what they can to retain their youth generation,” he continues. “A big part of that is creating outdoor recreation opportunities, and Colorado has always been a leader in that. In a way, I specialize in exporting the Colorado lifestyle.”

Continuing that concept of lifestyle-exporting, Jason is now in the process of doing a project in Michigan.

“Our big job right now is Grand Rapids,” says Jason. “Although the namesake indicates it, there are no rapids there. Five dams drowned the river and we are working to take them out and restore the rapids, right downtown. Rumor has it that a little town on the Eagle River is next to rebuild their riverfront and maybe some whitewater features.”

Jason credits several folks for his ability to “change channels.”

He cites John Fetcher (RIP) as a great man who mentored many. He developed the Steamboat ski area, a number of ranches, water districts and the Upper Yampa Conservancy.

“John really took me under his wing and helped me start my business,” he notes, adding, “Caroline Bradford was running the Eagle River Watershed Council at the time and we have worked together ever since. Caroline was a big part in the beginning the cleanup on Vail Pass. She also gives me the big sister advice I never enjoyed before. Bill Fullerton ran FLO engineering in Breckenridge. I also have to give a shout out to the Colorado Water Leaders alumni.”

Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed “Spike,” is a Coloradan since 1949, an Army veteran, former Climax miner, graduate of Adams State College and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years. Email your social info to milesfporteriv@aol.com

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